Mental Retardation is the colloquial term used to refer to a complex range of diseases that affect the human brain. It is also a loosely used term, and a social taboo is prevalent upon anybody
who is said to suffer from it. In other words, a person with mental retardation is said to be
unfit for any form of social interaction and therefore many families hide or restrict the very existence of such an individual to the confines of their homes. That people with mental retardation can also be productive individuals is something that is often overlooked by many. Here is an organization that not only nurtures skillful individuals but also has managed to tap into their award winning abilities.
Navajyoti Trust was founded by a prosperous industrialist D.J.K. Cornelius in 1968 at Bangalore. The objective of this trust was to start a vocational training center for youth aged between 14 to 22 years. In the nineties, the Trust launched a centre in Chennai. A campus spanning 10 acres of land in the prime industrial locality at Ambattur, this center serves as a home and workshop for young men who have a mild
form of mental disability.
“We take in boys who are fairly independent as far as their personal chores are concerned. Their IQ levels need to be above 40 in order to qualify. Here the boys are trained in academics as well as mild
engineering assembly skills. The trust not only takes care of their training and accommodation, but also helps them in procuring their disability ID cards and the MTC bus pass. Attenders are available to
keep the boys some company,” Says Balakrishnan, Trustee, Navjyoti.
The work timings for the Trust are from 9:00 am. to 5:00 pm. The trust offers the boys a week’s holiday once in every four months. “We started off with just eight boys, but today we have 28 boys and three
teachers at our centre. We do not offer an annual leave for the boys, since a long break from work would hinder their ability to recollect what they had learnt before the holidays,” says Balakrishnan.
Teachers in the centre have been trained specifically to work with persons with disabilities. The Navajyoti Trust offers a one-year Diploma in Vocational Rehabilitation which is recognized by the
Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI), the apex body governing the interests of persons with disabilities at the national level. This diploma course has been offered by Navajyoti Trust since 1995 and Navajyoti is
one of the first NGOs to launch such a course. Today, according to Balakrishnan, there are 13 other institutions that offer similar programs.
Navajyoti Trust gets its funding from Central and State government grants, corporate support as well as from private donations. “The grants take care of our training costs and teachers’ salaries. We invest our donations in fixed deposits and use the interest amount to meet our expenses which is around nine lakh rupees per year,”he says. The boys who stay for the three year period at Navajyoti Trust learn to become
self-reliant and independent. The teachers take them on field visits and teach them important life skills, such as how to take a train or bus to and from a particular place. Placements are done through the Shell-
Employee Trust. Companies such as Delphi-TVS, Diamond Chain, Brakes India Ltd. recruit the boys.
“Our boys come from poor families. So it is essential for us to find placements for the boys so that they may contribute to the family’s income. We largely tie up with printing presses, automobile assembly centers, and banks even,” adds Balakrishnan. “We design the factory fixtures to suit the boys’ abilities. Their medical condition leaves no room for error in mechanical tasks and their enthusiasm and commitment to their job is infectious. Recently Delphi-TVS presented us an award for being their Outstanding Supplier! It was all because the boys would turn in their goods well ahead of time because of their dogged commitment,” he says with pride.
Each boy earns an average of Rs. 3,500 per month. There is a certain pride and dignity and a boost of self-confidence that inculcates in the child. Navajyoti Trust has two centers in Chennai, one in Ambattur and another at Sriperumbudur. Being located close to the industrial belt of the city, the trust enjoys the affiliation of the best industries.
In 2008 the trust celebrated its 40th anniversary with great gusto. Over the years it has adapted itself to the times and today it stands testimony to the long standing struggle for the rights of persons with disabilities, especially mental disabilities.
Tucked away in a corner of the city, quietly working away are 28 boys who are more than what meets the eye. The world still calls them names, but little does it know that their eye for precision at work and sense of time surpasses that of anybody else.
A nod to Navajyoti Trust, an organization that respects these individuals for their worth and carefully nurtures them so that they may shine.