Maithree is an association by the parents, of the parents and for the parents of children with special needs

“Why look for any outside support when we have all the resources to bring up our children,” was the unanimous thought of a few parents of special kids as they discussed how to make a positive difference in these children’s lives during a Saturday Coffee Club meet at Madhuram Narayanan Centre for Exceptional Children.

Their kids were at the centre, which provides early intervention services to special children aged between 0 and 2 years. But, what after that? How will the children learn to survive in this world? Who will look after them if they outlive their parents?

These were some of the questions tormenting their minds. It was during one such meeting in 1994 that the parents decided to rely on their combined strength and start an association called Maithree.

The parents who formed Maithree did not stop with being an advocacy group focussing on the care of special children, but turned service providers. They turned the drawing room of one of the parent’s house in Perambur into their first centre, with a modest enrolment of just three children.

A year later, the number grew to eight and today, Maithree caters to over 450 students spread across nine centres in Chennai. And the unique thing about the centre is that most teachers, special educators, administrative officers are parents of children with special needs.

“When we started the organisation, we had to fill a huge gap between the needs of these children and the services available. With technical support from Madhuram Narayanan Centre, some of the mothers trained to become special educators and made it an organisation by the parents, of the parents and for the parents. We also recruited teachers from outside,” says P. John Rajkumar, a founding member-parent.

Believing that parents can best understand and appreciate the needs of these children, Maithree looks to meet their requirements during the entire span of their lives. The nine educational centres provide functional academics up to 18 to develop daily living skills.

“As each child is unique and differs in abilities, we have a customised study plan meeting individual requirements. Everything that these children learn will help them survive in this world,” he adds.

In addition to education, Maithree also looks to make these children productive. At its four vocational training centres, it helps them find meaningful and gainful occupation.

“By gainful occupation we mean a special child is able to make money out of his creations. For children who have extreme disabilities, the idea is to keep them children occupied to control behavioural issues. Thus, they are meaningfully occupied,” says a teacher.

Children are taught to make paper cups, plates, bags, door mats, jewellery and even hand-shields for the welding industry under the guidance of teachers.

The teacher is entrusted with identifying the abilities of the children and placing them in appropriate activities.

The Association also has a care and management centre for totally dependent children where, after the school training programme, they are provided therapy and help to accomplish little tasks.

For those who do not have any support system, a home away from home was started at Kancheepuram three years ago, with eight inmates benefiting from the residential service.

“This is our life-long commitment to these children and adults with special needs. At the unit, they are made to perform some activity in the morning and a full-time educator is there to take care of their needs. We have restricted the number to eight due to practical reasons,” says John.

Maithree is looking to open more such residential centres across the city with the help of parents. “We have started the initiative and want it to turn into a movement where more such parents join hands to help their own children. Instead of depending on others to do something, every parent should take up the cause,” he adds.

The organisation depends on parents, well wishers and philanthropists for all its activities. To raise funds, they organise a musical programme every two years to reach out to more people, and this year it will be conducted on April 12 at Nehru Indoor Stadium from 6 p.m.

“There is a three-point agenda behind the event: it helps parents bond, raises awareness among others and brings in funds to run the organisation,” says John.

It is a ticketed show and passes can be bought from any of the centres, online or at the venue. For more details, call 24832026 / 64586688 or visit www.maithree.org.

Maithree’s head office is at No: 4, 2nd Cross Street, Ganga Nagar, Kodambakkam.