Dignity for the Disabled

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.

So the idea behind Diya Foundation is to empower the disabled through skills. Sarah noticed that in India, intellectually challenged students go to a special school or no school at all depending on the financial situation of parents. These students spend their formative years learning basic, functional academics that will not help them get or keep a job. At the age of 14, they leave school, ill-prepared to deal with life’s challenges. They then spend most of their time in front of the television slowly forgetting whatever they have learned. Through Diya Foundation, she provides an answer to every parent’s concern “What will become of my child after school?” Diya provides an easy transition from school to work, work to life goals and life security.

At Diya, differently abled individuals receive basic training on a number of work options. These range from candle and chocolate making to data entry to gardening to screen printing. While training is imparted over a period of 6 months to a year, it really depends on the individuals’ ability to pick up the same. As I moved from room to room at their Bangalore-based premises, I saw individuals of varying degrees of intelligence. Many were not able to work alone or focus on the task at hand. But there were also a few who sat quietly in a corner wrapping chocolates or isolated from the rest of the group, totally focused on beading a bracelet.

Despite the training that Diya offers, placing these individuals in society continues to be a challenge. A few years ago, Sarah realized that the world outside is not as patient as the world at Diya. Just one slipup on the part of one of her students means that they end up losing the job they were placed at. Many a times, students just don’t get comfortable with the staff and surroundings of their new workplaces. So Sarah went a step further to secure the future of these individuals. She set up Diya Innovations, a ‘for-profit’ social enterprise, which is an off-shoot of Diya Foundation. Diya Innovations is the employment and marketing arm of the Foundation. Trainees proficient at working without ongoing supervision are recruited by Diya Innovations and even earn a stipend for their work. Innovations is competitive in the market in terms of quality and pricing with its employees.

Besides chalking out alternatives for intellectually challenged individuals, the organization also focuses on work alternatives for their mothers. Their project called Ekta is a self-help group that consists of the parents of mentally challenged adults, people with disabilities and women who come from a lower socio-economic background. Ably supported by Industree Craft Foundation and sponsored by Weir Minerals India Pvt Ltd, Ekta has been providing employment to ten women who live in and around the Bangalore East area. The group has been making steady progress over the years; from semi-skilled workers, they have become skilled workers and their income has gone up as well. Diya Foundation hopes to place some of their trained challenged adults in this group as a work option for the future.
It’s tough to understand the plight of a parent of a special child but somehow Sarah has managed to do that. Kudos to her and her team for turning bleak futures into somewhat bright ones!

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