Participants are children with disability
Seconds after T. Savari Raj, a special educator, brings his palms together and then pulls them apart, shouting “Start with the left side,” even while ensuring his lips move the right way, groups of students – some holding their neighbours' hands – kneel down and sweep the place. Others run their fingers through every bit of clutter, sort out the waste and place them in baskets. Instructions to students do not involve the names of colours and are accompanied by a flurry of gestures to make sure no student is left confused.
These are scenes from a National Service Scheme (NSS) camp in progress at the Government Model Higher Secondary School in Triplicane – a camp that is unique because the participants are children with visual disability and hearing impairment. For the past 10 days, a variety of tasks have kept around 400 children with disability busy, and have made them more confident than ever before.
Hitherto, they have merely read Mahatma Gandhi's thoughts on cleaning one's toilet and the implications of alcohol and tobacco on health; now is the time to learn it all by doing.
The activity goes on for the day, with regular breaks, and every work is done by a team, with at least one member who is just partially disabled, to ensure safety.
“He loves dusting the books in the library the most,” says Isai Arasan, a class XI student with visual disability, translating what his friend Vigneshwar who has speaking and hearing impairment, just wrote with his fingers on his hand. Vigneshwar, when asked what he did last week, immediately spreads on the table, pamphlets and charts with diagrams, and information of genetic counselling, nutrition during pregnancy and hereditary disability. “With the help of my teachers and parents, we have collected information on the disabilities we have and their impact. This will help people to take the required medical intervention,” says Isai Arasan.
“It was not easy for us to convince the unit that these children can also be involved in community work,” says Mr.Savari Raj, who is organising the camp. Of the over 350 higher secondary schools in the city, only about 110 have the NSS, say State records. One special school, St. Louis Institute for the Deaf and Blind has it, but efforts are being made to extend it to other schools for children with disability, say sources in Chennai Corporation.
One programme which sought to give these students a first-hand idea of how society viewed and communicated with them was the recent ‘Neeyum Bommai, Naanum Bommai' programme, organised as part of the camp. Holding placards, students with hearing impairment walked from one lane to another in Triplicane while those with visual disability shouted slogans asking people to refrain from tobacco. “Some were very amused that a boy who could not speak was asking them not to smoke, but many did drop the cigarette butt,” said Mr. Savari Raj.
Besides social work, they also need to know about themselves, their body and how they need to adapt the society, he says, recalling how many of his students are often kept away from even family functions. “What is it that they can do without help is always the question? But we need to realise that inclusive education can be rewarding only when every aspect of education is imparted. And why should not children with disability be made aware of their social responsibility?” asks Savari Raj.