Successful experiments in integration

Whenever, stake holders discuss about integration and mainstreaming, the beneficiaries with special needs are trained
or prepared to adapt to the new scene.

However, practices to ensure their acceptance by the other half is usually forgotten. In this column, we will get to know about Ms. Diana Tholoor, Founder, Chrysallis Performance Arts Centre for the
Challenged and her efforts along this unbeaten path.

Integration to her was a multidimensional concept. “Failure to
capture its significance in totality might affect the challenged children rather than creating a support system for them,” she
says very consciously. The birth of Chrysallis is a very interesting encounter between her Christmas parties for children
and the idea to help differently abled children to perform. During the party organized for 300 children from low economic backgrounds, a child affected by polio and cerebral palsy wanted to join the musical chairs game. Inspite of her trying to dissuade him, he went on and… WON!“Hanumanth was the fastest, moved around in lightening speed, with his face communicating nothing but pure joy of participation,” she says.

This was the critical incident. She was more than sure that she wanted to do something for these children.

Diana is a theatre person who works through movement, dance, drama for children with different challenges. The first performance 20 challenged children, many of whom were blind, became a huge success. Today, she has more than 150 stage productions, social films, radio shows and art programmes to her credit, all in the span of a decade. She has written original scripts for Special Need Schools and has directed and staged theatre performance bringing on stage over 320 performers in a single production. “The
sense of participation brought in by these performances adds to their confidence levels. The kids will always want more and
never less,” she smiles in her own characteristic manner.
Essentially Chrysallis started in 1999 as an outreach programme teaching dance and drama to children from Bangalore Special Schools. Eventually the network she tried to build up paid off. She introduced ‘Christmas with Chrysallis’ to bring all the children to a single event. With only 2000 children in the first two years, it presently reaches out to more than 1 lakh children across India’s metro cities. Friends and individuals are contacted to send gender neutral gifts for children costing no more than 25 rupees to Chrysallis, with a note inside, mentioning to age and gender of the recipient. The volunteer teams wrap it and distribute the gifts to the children.

Talking of volunteers, I must mention her open appeal in the blog: “Every moment of every day – I think about how to change
perceptions on the abilities of children with challenges. Join me on this journey and help make a difference.” Evidently her volunteers are her great strength. She aims to create a network of youngsters who believe in the abilities of challenged children and spread the message of equal opportunity.

Chrysallis also organizes volunteer enrichment programmes to create awareness on various issues concerning children with special needs.

Besides her engagement with Chrysallis, she also takes time out to direct and choreograph plays on causes taken up by various organizations. ‘Lion King’ with Spastics Society of Karnataka, ‘Alladin’with the Vidya Niketan, ‘Who loves you?’ (an original stage musical) for the launch of the Alpha and Omega theatre are just a few. In 2003, she staged a play titled ‘Bhavana’ for the awareness campaign of Sudatta, an adoptive parents association.
The film undertakings by her are on the topics of Suicide Prevention, Mental Illness, Adoption of a special child, Foster
Care, Adoption of a child with HIV/Aids, Abuse of a Male Child and others.

She also organized a programme bringing children with and without
challenges, and teachers together to create awareness on the needs of special children. This was part of a process to evolve a
module or a strategy to integrate children with disabilities with regular schools in future. “In an attempt to expose children and teachers to stark realities, 15 children were paired with disabled children and six teachers were asked to teach them for 10 minutes each. A sign language expert explained what was being taught for the benefit of the children with hearing disabilities. At the end of the history class, two children with visual disabilities could
not say anything about what they had learnt, and apparently children with hearing disabilities had found the class was going too fast and hardly understood what was being taught,” she recounts.

With sufficient experience convincing her on the need to bring children with and without challenges together, she launched a project in 2006. “The Chrysallis Power of One” was a 180 day long campaign raising awareness on integration of children with and without challenges across 33 states and union capitals in the
country. “The intention was to inculcate peer acceptance, social interaction, fellowship and understanding among the children. They cannot be peers unless they are encouraged and taught to play and
study together. We have to start from them,” she adds. The various paintings that these children had made portrayed the importance of special relationships, says a visitor at the exhibition of these paintings.

Besides arts and drama, sport is also used as a medium of integration. In 2007, Chrysallis decided to organize the first of
its kind carom and chess tournaments for children and adults from both the groups. A team was formed with one challenged
individual and a normal person.

Whenever children with different challenges and those without any come together to play or perform on stage, it certainly becomes a sight of happiness, paying off for all the hard work invested
through various programmes and the numerous rehearsals they had been through. More often, it is very hard to realize that children performing are challenged. But for Diana, all this was not hard. “Inculcating discipline was. We try to focus on articulation and sign language to convey stories. Stories, Diana says, with a simple line and message can really do well, leaving an impact on the audience. Having learnt the holistic approach through performance arts that she has evolved to bring about integration in every sense, it does not come as a surprise to know that she is the recipient of numerous awards like Kalasha Women Achiever
Award for Social Work by the Inner Wheel Club, Sadguru Gnanananda Award for Woman in Social Work in 2004, and Shrishti Special Academy for Social Excellence in 2003.

What all of us can do for this integration oriented initiative to succeed is spread the word, send Christmas gifts, volunteer and
wish them all success in their endeavours!

—Shanmuga Priya. T