Arvind Foundation helps special children coming from a poor background.

Experience is the best teacher, which is why many foundations and schools for differently-abled are run by parents with such children. Arvind Raj, 14-year-old son of Athmaraj and Sudha Athmaraj, is a special child. “While bringing up Arvind, we understood the hardship and the financial strain that parents undergo to provide a happy and comfortable life to such children,” says Sudha.

Thus, with a noble idea of helping special children coming from underprivileged background, the couple established a foundation in their son’s name in 2005 as a charitable trust. They also started a small school at their residence in K.K. Nagar called Arvind Niketan. Over the years, the foundation has opened outreach centres in Porur, Velappanchavadi, Chengalpet and Mannavanur (a village on the foothills of Kodaikanal), all of which are charity-based.

Anthroposophy

The education system in the school is based on the philosophy — Anthroposophy — founded by Austrian philosopher, and social reformer, Rudolf Steiner. Sudha explains it as a study and understanding of the self, in order to understand the needs of the special child. Steiner’s idea of eurythmy, a Greek term which means beautiful or harmonious rhythm, also finds place in the teaching techniques. An expressive movement art, eurythmy was primarily a performing art, but later used in education of special children as movement therapy. Calling it visible speech, Sudha says, “In it every movement signifies a sound.”

Focusing on the curative aspect of education, the school provides age-appropriate education along with physiotherapy, occupational therapy, yoga, painting and music. In painting classes, wet-on-wet painting technique is adopted where a chart paper is introduced into a tub of water, taken out and wet paint is used on it. “When children see the paint charting its own course, it has a healing effect on them. The music classes too have a calming effect on these children. We let them play the instruments and every difficult child eventually gets into the groove. We conduct pottery and carpentry classes for sensory healing,” says Sudha.

History lessons at the school deal with personalities and significant figures. Children are asked to enact roles of the hero. “These lessons are not for learning things by heart, but to instil good qualities in children. We believe in practical teaching which a child will never forget,” she adds. Science is taught in the open. Students get to interact with nature and thus imbibe its healing powers.

Sudha says, “We reach out to people by doing street plays, which stress on the need to change the lifestyle.”

Vocational training

The foundation has recently started a vocational training centre for young special adults called Arvindalayam (temple of healing) on Poonamallee High Road. Children above the age of 16 undergo four-and-a-half years of training, in which they are introduced to four to five skills. In the first year, the teachers find out which skill a child excels in and in the remaining term, focus is exclusively given on that particular skill. At the end of the training period, students are given six-month internship in various institutes, after which they can have a profession of their own. “At the centre, we concentrate on skill training, physical fitness and recreation. We have seen tremendous changes in children who come to the training centre. They become independent in their work, are more mellow and disciplined,” says Sudha.

The teachers at the school are trained to handle these children. The foundation also runs a community college programme in collaboration with IGNOU for training special educators.

“The Open University gives certificates and diplomas to those who have passed Class XII and trains them as special educators.” On the role of parents in educating special children, Sudha says, “Whatever inputs are given to children in the early years of their life will reflect when they grow up, so parental responsibility is very important. To support the parents, we give them frequent counselling. We conduct home visits every term to understand the background of these children and see how they are coping.”

Arvind Niketan is located at 387, 27 Street, 6 sector, K.K. Nagar. For details, contact Sudha Athmaraj at 98416 15333.

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