Mask making is a regular activity at this home for abandoned intellectually-challenged children in Chennai

Recently, the tailoring unit at Sri Arunodayam in Kolathur was up against a steep target. Three thousand masks had to be delivered to the voluntary organisation REACH, and the work had to be accomplished in 15 days, with 12 tailors. In regular circumstances, this would hardly be a pressure-cooker situation.

At this Kolathur unit though, intellectually challenged teenagers constitute its 12-member workforce.

They work from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. usually, and on days with an unusual ask, they put in those much-needed extra hours. That is how they met this target.

“When they have put in that extra work, they will make sure we treat them with eats such as boli and mini-samosa,” chuckles Iyyappan Subramaniyan, founder of Sri Arunodayam. “As they had not been out in the last one year due to the pandemic, we organised an outing for them, taking all the COVID-19 safety measures.”

Mask making is a regular activity at this home for abandoned intellectually-challenged children in Chennai

This month, Sri Arunodayam, a non-profit that provides a home for 108 children with intellectual disabilities who have been abandoned by their parents, completes one year of its mask project.

When the pandemic started, the centre was stitching and donating free masks to the poor and the homeless. Today, this has become the regular work at the vocational unit, fetching the management and its residents a decent income.

“In the first three months, we would have given at least 10,000 masks away, all done by the young adults from the vocational centre,” says Iyyappan.

Launching the mask project was not easy. Not all residents were trained in the use of the sewing machine and it took them two months to pick up this new skill.

“During the first 15 days, they were trained to work on the machine without the needle. Following this, adaptations were made in the “power machines” so that the needle would not pierce their hands,” says Baskar M, who teaches tailoring at the home.

Later, each of them was assigned roles and responsibilities based on their ability. These special-needs children, he says, are comfortable stitching but cannot take up cutting or measurement work.

“When we began, on an average, five to six masks were made every day. Now, the team stitches 40 to 50 masks,” says Iyyappan, adding they have stitched more than 30,000 masks.

The pandemic opened new avenues. Earlier, they made sold candles, diyas and wire baskets, a work plagued by the fact that these products came with limited scope for marketing.

“The pandemic has forced them to learn a new skill and put it to good use. We also give them a small stipend every month for the work they put in at the unit,” says Iyyappan.

The mask project is being run with the support from many donors.

“Our donations have come down due to the pandemic, but we have had many supporting us by placing bulk orders, marketing our masks or promoting them in social media,” says Iyyappan.

For example, Hari Das from Vanagaram bought a few hundred masks to distribute them to the support staff at his apartment, colleagues and his circle of friends.

“Photography being my hobby, I take pictures of the masks, which help in marketing them,” says Das. Another well-wisher Haripriya puts out a post on social media that usually translates into orders. Recently, a donor placed an order for 500 masks for children. The group is working on honouring this order.

Once the demand for masks die down, Baskar says, the plan is to see if they can use their sewing skills to stitch clothes.

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Printable version | May 15, 2021 8:34:22 PM |

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