MADIKERI : ‘Save Soil’, ‘Swachh Bharat’, ‘Atmanirbhar…’ are not just grand slogans here. They are constants that motivate the functioning of Cheshire Homes India Coorg (CHIC), in Pollibetta of Kodagu district. An institution for the specially-abled, it caters to the needs of children and adults with intellectual disabilities – a majority of whom are from economically weak backgrounds.
Started in the year 2000, the centre has helped shape the lives of people with special abilities by providing special education and vocational training for free. Students are provided sustainable education and are involved not just in readying themselves to face a not-so-inclusive society but are also taught to lead a sustainable, eco-friendly life. Apart from special education, vocational training involves recycling plastic, clothes, paper and manufacturing eco-friendly value-added products.
“The institution is run under the umbrella of Cheshire National Council, but we are an autonomous body. The institution supports the strengthening of the National Council so that we have a stronger body for disability in India,” explained Gita Chengappa, chairperson of the institution.
The centre receives support from the state government. “The state releases Rs 19 lakh annually and supports us. However, on an average, the institution requires Rs 40 lakh to Rs 50 lakh, which is raised through various donors. The institution caters mostly to people from very poor economic backgrounds,” added Gita.
While most special schools are residential, CHIC is a day care centre. Each day, five school vans (hired on rent) leave the institution in five different directions. Designated pick-up spots have been drawn up and students are brought to these spots by their parents, where they are picked up and dropped back after school. “We spend over Rs 13 lakh for the van facility annually. Yet, we don't want to make this a residential institution. We want the community, parents and society to be responsible for children with special abilities,” she opined.
The institution started off with just six students with special abilities. During the initial period, the institution involved itself in Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) and travelled the length and breadth of Virajpet taluk. “We went door to door, looking for children with special abilities and convinced parents not to keep these children hidden but to admit them to the institution. It was then run in a small building in Pollibetta,” she recalled.
The CBR programme was continued for eight years, and the institution currently operates in a spacious location with improved facilities, with 68 specially-abled students who are diagnosed with intellectual disabilities.
“After Covid-19, the number of students dwindled as many fell sick. But we continued to cater to their needs and are still providing them the required medication,” she said. The institution helps them avail of government schemes for the specially-abled. During the pandemic, the institution supported their families with provisions and monetary help.
The centre has six special educators. Shivraj, a specialist in visual impairment and mental retardation, heads the team as headmaster. Apart from the special educators, the centre has appointed vocational trainers. “The students are being skilled under different campaigns. While an inclusive society is still a distant dream, we are helping to skill them to earn a living within the boundaries of our institution,” she explained.
Single-use plastics, used papers and newspapers, used clothes and other recyclable plastic waste are turned into value-added products. Children with even severe impairment are involved in vocational activity which can help shape a sustainable, eco-friendly society. Used plastics are cut into pieces and woven (with help from a few women) into aesthetic mats. Used papers are cut into small pieces and processed into eco-friendly reusable paper, which is turned into paper bags and other items, and decorated with indigenous paintings.
From coasters to pillow covers, the talents of the specially-abled not just earn them a good living but help raise funds for the institution. The centre also has a ‘Jumble Sale Room’ where used clothes and other used items are stored and later sold. “We try unique methods to raise funds and build the institution,” explained Gita. The centre has a handloom unit operated by women from economically weak backgrounds, who are paid for their work. They also raise funds through handloom sales.Having addressed the needs of specially-abled people across Virajpet taluk, the institution is slowly expanding to the borders of Somwarpet taluk.
- Institution equipped to support needs of specially-abled, has ‘tactile paving’ that helps guide the visually impaired
- Toilets fabricated to meet the needs of specially-abled
- Institution has full-time physiotherapist and psychiatrist
- Helps recycle and upcycle plastic and paper waste, provides means of sustainable earnings to
- the specially-abled
- Centre has a ‘care unit’ where people with severe intellectual disabilities are cared for and nurtured
- Projects of Central government are implemented to empower the specially-abled