Swimming against the tide
In spite of a spate of problems, Bindu Murali ensures the best for the autistic children at her Amma– Centre for Autism
It takes immense determination and resolve to take the path less-trodden. For instance, taking a decision to care for autistic children is not an easy task. But that is what Bindu Murali decided to do. She runs Amma– Centre for Autism near Pappanamcode in the capital city.
Bindu is quick to point out that the centre was not begun because her eldest son Balamurali is autistic. “I don’t know why I started this institution. Definitely not because of my son. The centre is four-and-a-half-years old and my son is 25. If he was the reason why I formed the centre, then that should have happened when he was very young,” says Bindu.
Beginning with day classes for three autistic children at her home in Pappanamcode, she converted that into a boarding home for autistic children after shifting to a new rented building.
She says: “I felt my life should be meaningful and this is what I decided to do. Perhaps I was chosen to do this.” This institution, which is for boys alone, has 23 students, of which 15 are boarders. She used to take girls also, but for want of space and staff the admission was restricted to boys. It has boys in the age group of seven to 27. Among the day-scholars, there is a 35-year-old as well, she says.
There aren’t many boarding centres exclusively for autistic children. “They are often trained with children who have other forms of mental disabilities. But each autistic student is different from one another, be it in behaviour, learning ability, personal interests, grasping power... Often parents don’t even give toilet training to these children at home. So we’ve to start with that. It isn’t easy though. We have to be extremely patient and strict as well. I’ve now decided not to admit those above 20 years. You can’t bring about 100 percent change in an autistic child. But we definitely can help them to take care of their own affairs and improve their behaviour,” says Bindu, who learnt it all on her own.
Bindu, better known to Malayalis as an actor, has cut down on her acting assignments for the time being, since it is difficult to balance work and running Amma (Bindu has acted in over 20 films and nearly 12 serials).
“I’ve too many issues to handle. Like getting government recognition for the institution. Though officials from Department of Social Welfare had inspected our centre and were satisfied with the facilities, they can’t give us recognition since we are functioning in a rented building. We don’t have the capital to have a building of our own. Also, now we’ve been asked to move out of this house. But it isn’t easy to find a new place because the moment they hear about these children, most landlords backtrack,” says Bindu, expressing her helplessness with a faint smile.
In addition, she doesn’t have enough trained staff. Of the six people employed here, only two are trained. And since all of them leave by evening, Bindu has to stay back with the students at night. “My husband, Muraleedharan Nair, an official in the Forest Department, is very supportive and takes care of Balu when I’m not at home. My second son, Vinay Krishnan, is studying in Kozhikode.”
The centre doesn’t have any external funding. Philanthropists help, but that is only temporary. “Day-to-day affairs of the children, monthly rent, water and power charges, salary for the employees… We manage the expenses with the students’ fee. That is not a fixed thing, since I charge a fee according to the financial condition of the family.”
So, did she at any point, think of giving up? “No, if I want something, I ensure that I get it done. After all it is about helping somebody. I hope there is a way out from the present difficulties,” she says with a smile.
Contact Bindu at 9496153360.