Empowering the specially abled

CHENNAI: It is normal for parents of children with special abilities to wonder what comes after their special school education.  Though these thoughts do not lodge themselves in the minds

Published: 26th March 2012 01:56 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th May 2012 09:44 PM   |  A+A-


Freedom challenged: Youngsters at the SAI vocational rehabilitation centre in Pallikaranai training in various skills under the watchful eyes of their

CHENNAI: It is normal for parents of children with special abilities to wonder what comes after their special school education.  Though these thoughts do not lodge themselves in the minds of children, they linger around social set-ups and crop up on a regular basis, creating a sort of pressure on parents of children with special abilities.

Lakshmi Sarma, whose son Raghuram is affected by Down syndrome put aside all her accolades and opportunities as a chartered accountant (CA) to find the answer to this recurring question — what is the future of a

special child?  Lakshmi, the managing trustee of Strategy and Action for Independence (SAI) Trust — a vocational rehabilitation centre and workshop for young adults with special abilities — was born in a small town in Kerala and later emigrated to Colombo, where she spent her entire youth. She studied at the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Colombo and became the second woman in the country to pass the exam and the first woman to do so in the first attempt.

In 1983 Lakshmi moved to Chennai with her husband, Padmanaban Sarma, and their three toddlers. As a mother, she had always sensed that her youngest, Raghuram, was different from the others.

He was diagnosed with a typical case of Down syndrome — the presence of an extra copy of chromosome 21. A mere chromosome had changed her life. She admitted Raghuram at the Spastics Society of Tamil Nadu (SPASTN) and in parallel, pursued a diploma course in Special Education. She served as a teacher at SPASTN, juggling her CA audits with her work. After three years, she gave up her career as a CA and took up the post of principal, SPASTN.

With the administrative position in SPASTN came opportunities for Lakshmi to attend and organise various workshops and training programmes for differently-abled, all over the world.

This gave her the confidence to cross boundaries set by other instructors of special schools. Lakshmi says, “I was constantly looking for answers to help special children become useful to society. I wanted them to be trained in something that would be useful to the economy, while giving them the confidence that they were contributing to finances as well.” When Lakshmi saw her son had been trained in the printing press after his schooling, she embraced the idea of using paper as a medium that youth could be trained in and travelled all over the city looking for a place to start what she had envisioned. She bumped into the landlord of the shelter in Pallikaranai, who went out of his way to help Lakshmi with the infrastructure. And lo, SAI was born. It trains 6 youngsters in various skills including screen printing, making of bags, note pads and files and perforations. Now, corporate companies in the locality and multinational companies contact Lakshmi for SAI’s products.  

To know more, contact, Lakshmi Sarma +919282139840.

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