The Mahalingam Mariammal Mani Vizha Charitable Trust quietly goes about the business of helping those in need, writes Akila Kannadasan

“What is your name?” asks 15-year-old Arun Kumar in sign language. When I write it down in a notepad and hold it up for him, I'm surrounded by children, all eager to know who the newcomer is. Its Yoga period for students from classes 3 to 10 at the Kasturba Gandhi Oral School for the Hearing-Impaired.

Twenty four years old

“The school was started on October 2, 1996 with five children. We now have 53 in all,” says principal P.S. Shanmugam. The school has classes from pre KG to standard 10 and charges a fee of just Rs. 100 per month. The school is run by the Mahalingam Mariammal Mani Vizha Charitable Trust with the aid of ABT limited.

Empowering kids

Teacher Kavitha is busy attending to the wide-eyed pre- KG children.. “Students spend about two years in this class where they are taught lip-reading, an essential aspect of their learning process,” she says. She beckons Kavya to demonstrate how they are taught to identify sounds.

Placing the five-year-old's hand over her throat, Kavitha utters the word paasi (beads) clear enough for her to interpret. Kavya then points to a strand of beads. We all clap for her, and she smiles.

“This is how students are taught to identify about 350 objects. We can actually get them to talk quite well, provided there is sufficient home training. Parents are asked to accompany their wards to the classroom till they reach class four”

Practical lessons

Its activity day for students of class one – they are learning how to make panchamirtham with bananas and jaggery. Neatly labelled, the ingredients are placed on the table with clear instructions on the blackboard. “The aim of this activity is to teach the students verbs,” says teacher Karunambika. “Now that we actually demonstrated what ‘mash' is, they will be able to retain the term better,” she adds.

From class two onwards, students are introduced to the State Board syllabus.

Math teacher Shanthi says, “By now, they would be fluent in lip-reading. So, there is no difference in our teaching method, except that we emphasise our pronunciation.”

The trust also runs the Kasturba Gandhi Memorial De-Addiction, Rehabilitation & Research Centre inside the same campus.

“Alcoholism is a disease that can be controlled with proper medical treatment and counselling,” says physiologist A. Ananthan.

“Our treatment programme spans over a period of two years. The patient has to stay at the centre for 10 days, during which he is given medication to control withdrawal symptoms such as tremors and mood swings. He is also treated for other associated medical problems such as diabetes, blood pressure and liver disorders. Once he is physically fit, we begin psychological therapy that comprises of individual, family and group counselling,” he says.

De-addiction

Patients are advised to come for follow-up consultations every week. Three months into the treatment, they participate in a relapse prevention programme for eight days at the centre. This programme plays a key role in helping the patients abstain, according to Dr. D. Srinivasan, the centre's honorary medical director. “Improving adherence is our major concern. We don't want to be seeing relapses,” he adds. The treatment costs Rs. 6,000, of which Rs. 2,000 will be repaid over two years on a graded scale to encourage follow-ups.

“We don't admit people who are forced by their family. Each person here has lost something in life due to alcoholism. They come here willingly to start their life afresh,” says Ananthan. Without any publicity, the de-addiction centre has treated 6,700 patients since its establishment in 1993. The trust also runs a Siddha Hospital and Research Institute.

Sitting along a sunlit passageway in the campus are 11 women who are making envelopes.

Stree sakti

They are part of Sakthi Thiranalayam, a skills development centre for visually-impaired women. The centre gives visually-impaired women an opportunity to earn their own living.

“With the aid of helpers, they manufacture soap oil (liquid soap) and phenol, apart from making envelopes,” says assistant in-charge Deepa.

Forty five -year-old Vasantha travels three hours from a village near Madathukulam to get to work. But she does it with determination. She has two children, and her husband sells pens door-to-door.

“She never takes a day off,” says Deepa. “And, Sumathi is a good singer,” she adds. Sumathi readily sings for me. And, even when she does, her hands continue working. She never stops.

Products made at the centre are available for sale. For details, call 0422 2598545, 9600901450.