Founded in 1999, Diya Foundation (Diya) is a vocational training center cum sheltered workshop in Bangalore that provides training and employment to differently abled individuals. It was set up by a young lady called Sarah after a trip to the United States where she saw that the physically and mentally disabled there had dignity of labour. This enabled them to take up jobs such as cleaning staff in restaurants, shop assistants etc. and thus have a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. In India, this was clearly not the case. Parents of the disabled in India harbor a desire for their children to go down the regular academic route. Not being able to do so, it leads to a sense of frustration for both parents and children alike.
Diya Foundation was set up in 1999 by Maria S Santamaria (known to all as Sarah). A special educator by profession, she used to teach at the Convent of Jesus & Mary Special School in Byculla, Mumbai. It was during this tenure that she was first moved by the problems faced by parents of mentally-challenged children, especially their dilemma about their children’s future. This led to a desire to get certified to teach and thus did her BEd in Special Education at SNDT, Mumbai. Post this stint, she went to the USA to get a specialisation in the field through a Masters in Special Education; from the Cardinal Stritch College, Milwaukee. One of her key observations when in the US was that the disabled there had dignity of labour.
The candle room is an important part of Diya Foundation as some of the most creative products come out of here. Many specially-abled students like Preethi, Pinto, Deepika and Sheryl have shown significant progress, according to their trainer Sukanya. Deepika, a 16-year-old girl with borderline retardation, assists in the production of candles. “Even when I am not here, I know she will do the tasks with ease as she is extremely responsible,” says Sukanya. Deepika, who comes from Lingarajpuram, helps measure wax for melting, pours wax and packs the candles.