The Prasanthi model, its genesis and success, will be imparted to professionals at Cardiff

The beginnings were demure. Twelve years on, Prasanthi School for Children with Special Needs in Kozhikode, is a firm-footed institution. An urge to help has flourished into a lesson in perseverance, compassion and success. Prasanthi’s success story will travel to Cardiff to be presented at a workshop at the 6th International Cardiff Conference on Paediatric Palliative Care.

At the three-day conference conducted by the International Children’s Palliative Care Network in partnership with Cardiff University, professionals will get to know up close the story of a special school started by a retired college teacher. Ramakrishnan Palat, founder and director, Prasanthi, along with two trustees — Krishnakumar Padinharath and Geeta M. Govindaraj — will present the workshop on “Bringing Meaning to Special Lives – Pracitising Principles of Science and Morality” on July 11– the opening day of the conference.

Though the Prasanthi endeavour doesn’t strictly fall under the ambit of paediatric palliative care, Palat says, the organisers were impressed by the paper sent by Geeta. What was intended to be a routine paper presentation by Geeta, a doctor pursuing her masters in palliative care at Cardiff, grew into a one-and-a-half hour workshop on the novelty of Prasanthi.

When many extend ‘retirement’ from service to all aspects of life, Palat completed his school teacher’s training programme and began Prasanthi with nine children and a teacher. Now, with its own eco-friendly building, 110 students, 40 teachers and committed trustees, Prasanthi is beginning to make a difference to special children and their families.

“At the workshop, I will be talking about our solid achievement. In the past 12 years, 25 of our students have been incorporated into mainstream schools. They have got admission in schools which refused them earlier. Six of our children are employed at the institution while four are employed outside. From being considered ‘useless’ they have become useful, productive citizens,” says Palat.

While Geeta and Krishna Kumar, both doctors, will introduce the audience to Kerala and its mental health scenario, Palat will talk about his Prasanthi experience, beginning with the cause for its existence. As a teacher, he had ventured out to find the reasons for a disciplined student’s absence from college for two weeks.

At her home, amidst numbing deprivation, Palat also found her two mentally disabled brothers strapped to a coconut tree when the mother went out to fend for the family. Economics came in the way of the mother finding a place to train and teach her special children. Prasanthi stemmed from Palat’s restlessness on meeting that mother.

Palat admits, if he was aware of the complexities of running such an institution, he wouldn’t have ventured forth. Problems, he says, are many from infrastructure and funding to trained man-power. “When we began we did not have any government grants, no fund raising programmes or corporate participation. We would invite people to come to the school and if they thought it a noble mission, they could lend a helping hand,” says Palat.

Still, no funds are raised for Prasanthi. The school though received a government aid of Rs 10 lakh and Rs 12 lakh respectively the past two years.

“Though the government aid is based on student strength, we have been given the highest amount of Rs 12 lakh for our performance,” he says. The school also won thrice the Social Welfare Department’s award for the best special school in Kerala.

At Cardiff, Palat aims to take his listeners through his intensely personal journey which is also the journey of Prasanthi.

The institution continues to grow, the latest addition set to be a vocational centre to train the students to make paper cups and plates. “We would want the children to be in a position to earn at least Rs 1,000 a month,” says Palat.