BANGALORE: Twenty year old Sharath’s life starts early.
He leaves home by 7.30 am and then changes two buses to get to Basaveshwara Nagar. He reaches his workplace by 8.45 am and then works hard for 6-7 hours before getting home at 8.00 pm. The difference between him and others is that Sharath is suffering from Down Syndrome.
Unlike other differentlyabled young adults, who after completing special school, either sit at home or do small odd jobs like candle making, basket weaving etc, Sharath has a proper job.
After completing his class VIIIth, he could not continue school as he could not cope with the difficult curriculum. He was sent to a special school where he learnt small vocational courses. But a guiding hand pulled him out of the vicious circle and gave him a chance to lead a normal life.
After working in the investment banking sector for 15 years, 48-year-old Sheela P quit her job one day and decided to help the differently- abled. Realisation struck when her daughter Vidya, who is also living with Down Syndrome finished special school and had nothing to do after that.
Sheela recalls, “After she finished special school, she just sat at home watching television. She had forgotten most of the things she was taught at school and I could not put her into main stream education or profession. That is when I hit upon this idea to open a workplace for such young adults. Thus Shirdi Sai Academy for Intellectually Limited (SSAIL) was born.
“To set up the infrastructure, Sheela used her own personal savings and took loans from friends. “Initially there was nothing. I had no financial help. Corporate companies gave me computers and my parents gave me their terrace, after which I basically trained these young adults in simple computer operations for around a year. Now I get data feeding work from Tata and Airtel. I get around 250 forms per day and the employees have to do a very simple job of digitalising the data,” she says.
At the end of each day, she personally checks the forms. Sheela wants these young adults to become self sustainable for their entire lives.
“We initially tried to put them in the mainstream job environment, but there they lost confidence as nobody would interact with them. In this atmosphere where other people are also like them, they feel at home and also learn from each other,” she says.
In the long run Sheela wants to start a proper BPO for the differently-abled. She wants to open a totally different community for them where they can live, eat, work, and do everything in one place. The challenge is funding; she is not able to pay the employees a very good income for now. “We got our contract only three months ago. So, currently, there is a financial crunch. But once we start getting more work, the situation will improve,” she says.
Sheela used her own personal savings to give a new meaning to so many young lives. “The differently- abled are dependent on their parents their entire life. And when the parents grow old there is no security for them. I didn’t want that to happen with my daughter. I wanted to make sure that when I am not there, she still has a life and is independent,” she says.
If you also want to volunteer to work with her trust — Shirdi Sai Academy for Intellectually Limited (SSAIL), you can mail her at: sheela_pesi@yahoo.