IM this article to a friend!

December 11, 2004

Love in the time of darkness

From: Indian Express, India - Dec 11, 2004

Amrita Tripathi

New Delhi, December 11: FOUR years ago, Delhi-based journalist Jairaj and Delhi High Court advocate Chanchal Thakur founded Aadharshila, an organisation that aims to educate and rehabilitate deaf-blind children.

Today, the group has 50 members, including other journalists, lawyers, doctors, teachers, social workers and even a sanyasin from Azerbaijan, Amrit Mahamedha, who teaches yoga and lives in Chamoli.

According to Jairaj, who was motivated by an article he read, there is no official data on the number of deaf-blind children in the country. He refers to an estimate made by Sense International, a UK-based NGO, that there are about 5 lakh children in India who suffer from both disabilities.

Aadharshila set up a school for deaf-blind children in Chamoli, Uttaranchal, that has educated 35 children so far. Why Chamoli? ''Because of the natural setting,'' says Jairaj, adding that the environment is conducive to learning.

Right now, there are 16 students at the school in the age group of 8 to 15 years. The children are taught Braille and are provided hearing aids and other materials. The school is privately funded, says Thakur, the project coordinator.

''We will not sell their disabilities,'' says Jairaj, adding that there is pressure from organisations in First World countries to hold charity functions and have photo-ops. ''It is a form of silent exploitation,'' he says. ''We decided that instead of spending money for public relations, we'd put it to better use.''

''We do not want sympathy. We are looking for help on humanitarian grounds,'' says Thakur. ''The fifty members contribute about Rs 1,000 a month each,'' says Jairaj. The school costs about Rs 35,000 a month to run — including the salaries of the four teachers trained at the Lady Helen Keller Institute in Bangalore. The students are all from around Chamoli and are not charged fees.

Now Aadharshila has a more ambitious project — setting up a residential school in Chamoli. The school will be on the lines of a gurukul, to be called 'Kshitij'. It will target ''down-trodden children'' from across the country, ''irrespective of ability or disability'', says Thakur, adding that the school will charge fees on a ''case-by-case'' basis.

Thakur says the gurukul will have an in-house training programme. Projected costs for the gurukul are around Rs 2 lakh per month. About 40 more teachers need to be trained, says Jairaj, adding that a team from the Perkins School for the Deaf and Blind in Boston will be involved in the process.

''We need to erase the picture that these children are a burden on society,'' says Thakur, adding that educating them is important so they they can have an understanding of their own capabilities.

© 2004 Indian Express