S.P. Reddy, the founder of UETS was born in Kanagiri village in Andhra Pradesh. A few influences, during his childhood, helped him determine his determination to serve the mentally challenged and visually impaired community.
One incident was the plight of a mentally retarded girl in his village. He recalls how his friends and village locals would make fun and abuse her. Reddy witnessed the trauma this girl’s mother faced when the girl returned home, upset and seeking shelter. “The girl was growing physically but not mentally. In those days, there was no awareness in how to deal with such people, which gave rise to all sorts of abuse to the girl. Her mother could not handle her. Villagers used to come to the girl’s mother and complain about her behavior. Her mother used to break down not knowing what to do,” explains Reddy.
Another influence in Reddy’s life was his visually impaired grandmother. She was completely blind by the time Reddy was born. He used to help her with daily chores, take her for a walk and attend to her every need. These two incidents were the catalysts for his thoughts on starting a school for the mentally retarded and visually impaired.
Reddy was a clinical rehabilitist by profession. He published many papers in both national and international journals. He was the only certified rehabilitist by the government in the early 70s. Reddy says that his primary interest has always been social work, but his family never approved. They were worried that he would not earn enough for his future. “Working with the mentally retarded, sometimes, my folks thought that I myself was retarted because I was hardly at home and completely devoted to the work,” laughs Reddy.
Reddy shared his thoughts with his friends and colleagues. He wanted to start a school for the adult visually impaired population. Contributions from his friends led to Reddy renting a house in Kakinada where 7 blind people and 9 mentally retarded (M.R) people were hosted. “There were a lot of initial hiccups. I had no money and was completely dependent on funds. Very few savings and family money was taken to start the first school. I had no idea what a society was. I just knew how to serve. No idea about rights etc. All this sometimes took me on a longer path.”
As word spread, people started to recognize UETS’ work. “Mahila Mandal from Kakinada approached to help us with the funding. They started collecting Rs. 10 for every packet of rice they sold and created awareness about the work, then corporate offices approached us, and eventually I approached the government for a grant,” recalls Reddy.
In the year 1988, with 9 mentally retarded persons, Uma Manovikasa Kendram (UMK) was registered to provide rehabilitation sevices to the poor and the needy.“It was not any easy task. I had to run behind the officers more than 10 times! Many times, I felt like giving up, but seeing these kids dependent on me, made me muster up my determination. These kids are my motivation. Seeing these kids who could never walk, get up and do their daily chores, improve, keeps me going,” adds Reddy.
During those early days very few special schools were available in India. Reddy had physically visited those places and came to know their techniques and specialities. He found that an education provided at a hostel was not adequate. A day care centre which catered to children with special needs was required. He began this with just 20 children.
In the years of 1994-95, the Government of India, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment provided a 90% grant after seeing Reddy’s achievements with the needy and poor. Based on this merit, his organization was applauded and received many awards.