NAGERCOIL: Inside a nondescript building at Konam in Nagercoil city, 38 special children aged between six and 36 go about their lessons for the day. Listen closely and you will hear a verse or two of the famed Thirukkural, or a song, or a piece of keyboard music, punctuated often by hearty laughter.
To these children, the lessons are as soft as a lullaby, for they come from their own parents.
At Nanjil Oasis Happy Centre, a group of parents has banded together to ensure the best care and attention for their intellectually challenged children. Except for the principal, all the teachers at the school are parents of the students.
Established in February 2016, the school is the brainchild of TS Rajan and wife M Rama, who have a special child, now 22, of their own. “We wanted to give our children the best emotional, physical care possible,” said Rajan, who is the school correspondent. Rajan said he and his wife have been working for the welfare of special children for two decades.
It was the friendships and camaraderie that he cultivated during these works which came in handy when constituting the school. “First, we formed a trust — Nanjil Oasis Parents Trust — with 30 parents as members. The school was formed three months later by pooling contributions from the members. We now have about 50 parents in the trust. Though a few of them are in other cities, they continue to help the school,” Rajan said, adding many parents knew each other even before the trust was formed.
On the difficulties in the initial days, Rama recalled how their previous landlord left them in dire straits by giving them just a month to vacate the then school building in December 2017. Finding a suitable place was the toughest task they faced, she said. “We searched and searched, but owners kept closing the doors on us when we told them it was for a special school,” said Rama, who holds a special BEd degree. A month and 15 unhelpful house owners later, they finally found a place in Konam in January 2018.
The parent-teachers said the children are taught a wide variety of subjects, based on their individual interests and aptitude. Thirukkural recital, keyboard, drum, vocals, and skating are a few topics covered. The parents also make it a point to find a child’s hidden talent and nurture it. “We have a student who, when he joined, appeared to not like music at all. A year later, he played seven songs on the keyboard at an event in Coimbatore,” Rama said. Principal A Jesila Banu said they also invite experts to train their students on keyboard, drum, tabla and skating.
S Sugapriya, a Thiruvarur native who moved to Nagercoil after her husband’s transfer, said has been working with the school since its inception. Her 16-year-old daughter studies there. “Initially, she could not walk and speak, but now she is showing improvement,” Sugapriya said. As for teaching, work is assigned according to each parent’s educational qualification and capability. The school, thus, has a wide talent pool as well.
Rajan said voluntary contributions from teacher-parents help them make ends meet. “None, however, is compelled to make a contribution,” he said, adding a few kind souls pitch in to fund the school.
The school functions from morning to evening, Monday through Saturday but, “If any parent has work or any engagement on a Sunday, we take care of their children. We work as a family; we are a family,” said Rama, adding that when the Covid-19 struck and the school had to be shut, they visited working parents’ houses and took care of their special children. Rajan said wealthy trust members also helped find and provide employment to parents in need of it.
“The teacher-parents also visit colleges to spread awareness on preventing births of intellectually challenged and differently-abled children,” Jesila Banu said. On what plans they have for the future, Rajan and Rama said they want to purchase land and construct a school with a hostel. “We are also planning to give the children vocational training according to their abilities,” they added.