Embracing differences, one step at a time

Founded by Dr R Lalitha Kumari, Jinendra Jothi Special School takes care of disabled persons even after their parents’ death
Dr Lalitha Kumari, faculties, and their students at the special school in Padi, Chennai | p ravikumar
Dr Lalitha Kumari, faculties, and their students at the special school in Padi, Chennai | p ravikumar

CHENNAI: Off the hustle of Padi, in Chennai’s suburbs, a special school is like a home away from home for a bunch of children with disabilities. They are busy drawing, making jute bags and mats, and learning how to read, speak, and behave in casual settings. They get engaged in all kinds of physical and mental activities at the school. Dr R Lalitha Kumari stays with them with a smile and the warmth of a mother.

A mom to a disabled child herself, Dr Kumari founded the home in Chennai back in 1998 as she felt deeply connected to the idea of lending help to people like her own child. After Dr Kumari gained confidence in her work, she went on to register her school — Jinendra Jothi Residents Special School — as a trust by the name Sri Ganesh Charitable Trust in 2006.

While the doctor has been helping many children climb the social ladder through the special school, she recently founded a new school Vatsalya Jothi, which provides ID cards to the parents of disabled children. This ensures their security even after their parents’ passing.

Aimed at catering to disabled people across all age groups, her school has helped many children with multiple intellectual disabilities. While many disabled people have achieved stability to lead independent lives, many have also achieved success in sports and securing jobs. Unlike most special schools, Jinendra Jothi abides by a unique promise – to take care of its residents until their last breath if need be.

“With the Jinendra Jothi unit, our goal is to provide treatment, education, nutrition, shelter, medical support, and sponsorship for children’s food and accommodation. These people should never be deprived of their basic needs by society,” says Dr Kumari, adding that the driving force behind the initiative is her trust, which provides lifetime support for disabled children.

In addition to the Padi unit, the trust has two other units, one in Gerugambakkam in Chennai and another in the Tiruvallur district. Dr Kumari goes on to share a heartwarming story of how her school helped a 16-year-old boy. “The boy, who is on the autism spectrum, would never wear clothes at home. However, after six months of staying at the residential school, the boy began wearing clothes and learned to behave normally.”

In addition to pursuing their philanthropic intentions, Dr Kumari and her staff visit the homes of children with autism and provide care. A recent incident that demonstrated the school’s dedication to the cause was salvaging a child whose parents died. When the relatives of the child refused to take him in, it was the school staff who nursed the child back from misery.

What makes Jinendra Jothi even more appealing in its true cause is its commitment towards enabling disabled people to lead a full life. To this end, they take their students on memorable trips. Quite recently, the students were taken to Gujarat, where they visited, and went on heritage walks while training themselves in how to behave in public places. “The children even learned how to travel by trains and buses, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Every year, we take the children to Tirupati to offer special prayers,” says Dr Kumari.

Realising a growing need for schools like Jinendra Jothi, Dr Kumari adds that they have been accepting donations to work towards the greater goal. A beacon of hope for children with special needs, Dr Kumari’s efforts truly deserve recognition and appreciation.

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The New Indian Express