LILLE, France — In 1976, Padma Shree S. Ramakrishnan attended a navy selection board interview as a fourth-year engineering student without the slightest inkling that he would suffer a complete loss of sensation and muscle power below his neck following a fall during a physical test. After 10 months of rehabilitation, he started a school for children with disabilities in Ayikudi, India. He named the school
Amar Seva Sangam (ASSA) to honor his orthopedic physician and mentor, Air Marshal Dr. Amarjit Singh Chahal, who motivated him throughout his recovery period.
Amar Seva Sangam (ASSA)
Ramakrishnan initially opened the school with the purpose of serving polio-affected children who often face ostracism by society. However, the school that started on a five-acre piece of land donated by Ramakrishnan’s parents has today expanded into a “Valley for the Disabled” across 30 acres.
ASSA seeks to dissolve the misconception that people with disabilities cannot contribute to society. According to the organization, people with disabilities can be just as productive as anybody else with the right resources and support. The sectors that ASSA works in align with its mission to empower people with disabilities, give them unwavering confidence and help them reclaim their position in society by providing them with education, vocational training and even job placements.
Through daycare centers, ASSA not only provides education access but also food and other necessities for young low-income children with autism, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and intellectual challenges. While the center offers early intervention to help children from an early age, parents can also learn skills to assist their differently-abled children to live more independent lives in the future. ASSA’s village-based rehabilitation initiatives also provide support through self-help groups and established respite centers.
Children with disabilities from low-income families can obtain a high-quality education at ASSA through integrated preschool, nursery, middle school and high school education. The Amar Institute Of Rehabilitation Science offers three diploma programs in rehabilitation and sees up to 15 individuals graduate annually with skills to serve handicapped people in their communities. ASSA’s Special Study Centre helps students obtain degrees or diplomas through distance learning via the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) and Alagappa University.
For the past 20 years, ASSA has run a number of technology-enabled models of skills development or vocational training. This includes the areas of computer operations, advanced information technology, cell phone servicing, servicing of home appliances and two-wheeler mechanism training. Other skills development activities include typewriting, notebook-making, book-binding, tailoring, garment making and handicrafts.
Leadership Helps Take ASSA to the Next Level
The Borgen Project had the opportunity to interview S. Sankara Raman, an auditor by profession and honorary secretary of Amar Seva Sangam. Raman shared that he was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy when he was 3 years old but that he never let his disability hold him back. Instead, he worked hard to make people aware of his potential.
According to Raman, at ASSA, development programs account for 70% of its budget and funding comes from global donors, the private sector as well as the Tamil Nadu government. ASSA also generates income from its own activities and investments. Raman emphasizes that programs should not face the risk of a suspension midway through because of a financing issue and that sustained funding is essential since ASSA continues to place importance on high-quality programs.
ASSA hopes to partner with the government over the next three to five years. Now home to 6,000 children, ASSA hopes to reach as many as 100,000 children in the future. Increasing the number of beds from 16 to 40 and establishing a center for stroke patients also fall within the upcoming project scope of Amar Seva Sangam.
“Never assume that people with disabilities are out of the ordinary. In fact, there is no such thing as normal and abnormal in human beings. Everybody should get equal treatment. Look at us as individuals; don’t evaluate us based on our postures… Good morals and hard work are the sole keys to success; it is simply a matter of time,” Raman concludes. The Amar Seva Sangam seeks to empower children with disabilities with the skills and knowledge to thrive.
– Karisma Maran
Photo: Wikimedia Commons