Sainuddin S. is giving finishing touches to his painting of a woman carrying firewood on her head, a carefully constructed village scene at twilight. A student of the MRCH Special School in Payyannur, he looks forward to such competitions that test his many skills, one of them being athletics, in which he won two gold medals at the recent State-level Special Olympics.
On Wednesday, the town hall here became a rare arena for Sainuddin and 300 other students from 48 special schools in Malabar region to display their diverse skills. The cultural festival for the differently abled, consisting of work-experience fairs, painting competitions, cultural programmes, and quizzes was organised by Rahmaniya Special School and various charitable organisations. At the end of the painting competition, the students quietly cleaned the area without the teachers asking them to do so.
At the work-experience spot competitions, each was creating unique things. From embroidery to carpet-making to fashion designing, their skills had no limitations.
But the highlight of the competition was two students from the Asha Niketan Special School in Koyilandy, who are already making a living out of selling self-made soaps and detergents. “All our students are given training in some vocational skill once they reach the age of 18. The focus is on making products for everyday use, such as soaps, candles, and envelopes, which are much in demand in the neighbourhood. We pay them weekly wages in addition to the profits they get from the sales. This is one way of bringing them to the mainstream,” said Santhosh. T.P. of Asha Niketan, who has been training students in vocational skills for the past 17 years.
He said that there is at least one skill in which each of these students excels. The challenge is in finding their true calling. Among the two students competing here, one is an expert in soap-making and the other, in packaging and sticking labels.
A quiz organised as part of the festival witnessed a close contest.
A trained volunteer was present with each two-member team, who wrote down the answer on its behalf. Screams of joy were heard as quizmaster RK, a popular voice of the All India Radio, announced each of the answers. He sang between the questions, dropped tantalising clues, and endeared himself to the students by the end of the contest
“The students in special schools have very few opportunities to express themselves in public. By correctly identifying the skills matching their aptitude and through proper training, they can overcome any barrier. Such programmes are also a way of spreading awareness of their needs among the public,” said Ummar K.M., Vice-Principal of the Rahmaniya Special School.
Pointing to the lack of awareness of the difficulties faced by the differently-abled, Sr. Jessy Mankottil, Principal of Nirmal Jyothi Special School, narrated an incident that happened during their trip from Wayand to participate in the festival.
“The bus that we got into was crowded and my students were facing difficulties. I requested the conductor to provide seats for them. On his request, a few people vacated their seats but they kept on showering abuse on us till we reached Kozhikode,” said Sr. Jessy.