The road to Samerth Talim Kendra is paved with stones and mud. Located in Juhapura, an impoverished minority district that bore the brunt of the Gujarat earthquakes in 2001, Samerth Talim Kendra is a school cum day-care center for special needs children in the area.
Their parents, largely daily-wage workers and auto-rickshaw drivers, were largely ignorant of their children’s needs before Samerth Talim Kendra opened its gates. The usual practice for special needs’ children was to be tied up or locked at home, while their parents go to work to put bread on the table.
Walking through the “kutcha” roads, one reaches the center, a clean 3-story rented house that functions as the school. THe project coordinator is Mrs. Rajul, a phenomenal lady who is the supervisor of the project and responsible for its day-to-day functioning. She is assisted by Mrs. Afroz(the school principal) and a host of dedicated staff including teachers, care-givers , speech and physical therapists. Many members of the staff have been working with special needs children for over 30 years.
The children are grouped into 3 classes according to their development levels-STK1,STK2, STK3. The children with the severe disability are grouped in STK3 and as they are promoted to the next level as they improve . The classrooms are all bright and airy and decorated with the children’s crafts and drawings.
A separate section houses kindergarteners, a group fortunate enough to be taken under the school’s wings at an early age. According to the school teachers and experts in the area of special needs, the earlier the children’s handicap is identified and provided care, the better their chances of improving and living normal lives later on.
Perhaps the biggest accomplishment of the school has been its outreach programs and the level of trust built up with the children’s parents. Parents taking a positive attitude towards their wards’ special needs are crucial in aiding their development and avoiding stress in their lives. Through outreach programs in the district and parent’s education classes, the school has managed to change attitudes. A special needs child’s parent has become much more receptive towards sending their children to the school or seeking help rather than keeping them hidden away.
Another success of the school has been in the area of vocational training classes. With support from Asha for education, the school has been running a 2-year long vocation training course for children advanced and interested enough to learn skills that can help them integrate in society. These involve knitting, sewing, creating and selling handicrafts. In a stunning success of the program, a couple of the school’s children have been able to put their skills to use in the real world and are earning livelihoods on their own.
Despite the apparent successes of the school and the program, there still exists dire challenges that need to be overcome. The school needs more funds to upgrade infrastructure and provide better medical care to its wards.The school currently being housed in a rental building periodically faces threat of eviction from landlords. Purchasing a property to build its own school would provide much more stability but requires funds upto Rs 1 crore.
The 2020 year of COVID-19 has also dealt multiple harsh blows with the school forced to be locked down and send most of its children home, leaving them unable to receive care.
Through the dedication of the school staff and its generous well-wishers, one hopes that the school will continue to lift up the lives of the special needs children and their parents in the Juhapura community.
You can help too!
If you would like to donate and assist these kids, there are several ways to do so.
- Donate any amount of your choice towards food and education for these children – LINK
- Support a child initiative – you can pay for food and education of 1 child enrolled in Samerth. You and your family could get reports on the child’s progress if you desire. It costs $365 a year ($1 a day). LINK
- Provide funds for upgrading infrastructure, additional medical and physiological care to kids or purchasing new property for the school to relocate. building.
Here are some additional images from the project-
Image: The hall/office that also functions as a physical therapy room.
Image: Handicrafts produced by the school and its children that are offered for sale.
Image: A child’s meticulously prepared medical records and physical therapy program