I was overwhelmed with kindness on my visit to Adarsh Charitable Trust. As I walked into their three storey building, I was touched by the motivational quotes marked on the walls. Adarsh Charitable Trust does not try to hide disability and what children cannot do but rather focuses on the ability of the child and the positives of what they can do. Their motto ‘A man is never as tall as when he kneels to help a child’, reinforces the idea that we all have a duty to help those less fortunate in any way that we can. Children from the age of three months up to 15 years are encouraged to be brought to the school for therapy and training. There is particular focus on early intervention and every year the number of children under 10 years increases. Today, out of over 207 children, 92 are below 10 years. These children mainly experience physical therapy but some take academic classes too.
The organisation believes the growing numbers are linked to the transportation service they offer. There are eight school vans which service 130 children; and they stress that “we do not only take the children to a meeting point but right up to their doorstep.”
Fees are charged depending on parental income. However, this is minimal. Today, 50 children pay no fees and only four children qualify to pay the top bracket of fees, which is Rs. 2,000 a month. This also helps keep the centre sustainable.
There are 17 trained therapists, with degrees in physiotherapy or speech therapy who attend to the needs of the children. Each child has a personalised schedule on how they spend their days at Adarsh. Older children spend 5 hours a day in the school, with around 2-3 hours spent on academics or vocational training. The day commences with a prayer and an assembly and the children have to wear uniforms and follow a timetable. What I found most interesting is that the organisation aims to keep the school atmosphere such, that even those with disabilities believe they are like all other children.
A highly unique fact about Adarsh is that when families commit their child to the school they also commit themselves to become fully involved. As the organisation insists that all children under the age of 5 should be accompanied by a family member; this is normally the child’s mother. This helps cement the parental bond and gives the mother a chance to learn more about her child’s disability too. Parents learn from the staff so that they can apply appropriate care methods which benefit the child at home. Many mothers are now even qualified staff and have completed training at Adarsh! The community of parents means that the children are always surrounded by people who understand their problems; moreover, the mothers have formed a strong bond of friendship by attending Adarsh with their children. As I walked around the building there was a great sense of community and many of the rooms were filled with mothers playing with their children, supported by the Adarsh staff.
In 2006, Adarsh started educating children under the National Open School system. Presently, there are over 38 children from the 2nd standard to the 7th standard. Since 2011, six children have even gone on to complete the 10th standard Board exams. These academic opportunities allow children with physical disabilities to excel, where as in a normal school the infrastructure would not support their disability. I met one boy with Cerebral Palsy who could not walk but had great academic knowledge, loved to read and knew all the cricket teams in the English league! Adarsh has realised that every child has a talent or spark that can be nurtured and disability does not have to stop the child from leading a happy and fulfilled life.
Tested therapies are practised at Adarsh to try and engage with the child’s mind. Music therapy is widely used; it has therapeutic effects on the children and they find it highly enjoyable. A music teacher, qualified in South Indian classical music has been teaching these children for over two years. Adarsh has used this opportunity to also conduct some research. The children have been split up into two groups, those who require group training and those who need individual attention. The intention is to study what changes take place in a child’s brain when music is played. The research started in 2009 and it will take some more time before there are any meaningful results.
The children also get the chance to experience hydrotherapy, which is physiotherapy using water as the medium for exercise. The water helps flexibility and increases the child’s range of motion whilst simultaneously building up strength. Adarsh sends 10 children to the pool of the regional sports centre once a week.
The organisation encourages any form of creativity and on my walk around the classrooms there were many hands on activities. One class was practising sewing, another were colouring in pictures and others making flowers from scrap materials. Adarsh’s computer facilities are modified to suit some of the individual children’s disabilities. Examples include a computer fitted with a track ball, which works as a mouse but is controlled by a child’s foot. Other equipment attaches an optic mouse to the forehead of children whose only voluntary movements are through the eyes and neck. I was truly amazed to see this equipment in action! The girl who I spoke to could understand my questions but due to her disability could not respond vocally. It was very special to see her responding using the keyboard on the computer screen accompanied by the mouse attached to a band on her forehead. Without this specialised equipment these children would not be able to express themselves! Adarsh aims to buy more equipment like this in the future so more children can be trained to communicate.
One of the highlights of my visit was meeting Anjan. 24 years old, Arjan suffers from Cerebral Palsy; he is also partially blind and deaf-mute. After 13 operations, he can now walk with crutches. What stood out was that despite his condition, he emulates happiness! Having spent his childhood at Adarsh itself, he now works here as a computer teacher. He is also an amazing artist, who specialises in caricature drawings – he drew a picture of me in just 2 minutes! I was so inspired by him. He is the epitome that disability should not prevent you from reaching your potential. No wonder then that he is such a great role model for the children at Adarsh too.
Adarsh is highly involved in the local community too. From 2003, it has actively helped in setting up 13 similar institutions in 7 districts of Kerala. All technical help was provided -from recruiting teachers, identifying children with problems to staff training. The latest project in the community, known as Home Based Rehabilitation Programme, was established in 2010. The project provides rehabilitation services to children who cannot make it to the day centre, due to physical or financial issues. Rehabilitation assistance is provided to 140 children in their homes, at least once a week; with a team consisting of a physiotherapist, a special educator and a helper. On my visit I was taken to a home, about 10 minutes away from the day centre. The child who lived there was Autistic and his ageing mother struggled to cope with his often aggressive behaviour. She was very thankful to the team who regularly visited her son as they set work for him which gave him a focus, instead of getting frustrated. He was shy when I arrived but took great pride in showing me drawings that he had done and a pencil holder he had made with the help of the Adarsh staff.
Adarsh plans to expand in the future, aiming to add a fourth floor to their current day care centre. They also wish to improve the quality of their equipment by making sure they are up to date with the latest medical advances. They also have plans to provide a hydrotherapy pool on their premises but these are on hold due to the high cost (around Rs. 10 lakhs). There will be a push for more funding to go into the home based rehabilitation programme, as estimates show they are currently only servicing 10% of the total requirement.
The organisation also struggles with older children, as their services are only meant for children up to the age of 15 years. Some of their students have exceeded that age and are still attending Adarsh. So, they want to work towards more programmes for children up to the age of 18, perhaps even a residential project where they could stay once they reach adulthood. This would give parents a well-deserved break as well as the peace of mind of knowing their child is safe if they become ill and unable to care for them.