BY JYOTHSNA HEGDE
Atlanta,GA: Nestled in the rural Adilabad district of Telangana, Shantiniketan, a non-profit organization, provides special education and vocational training to children challenged with visual, hearing or speech impairment, autism, cerebral palsy, and various other debilitating conditions. The brainchild of Atlanta educator Janardhan Pannela, Shantiniketan aims to provide services such as physiotherapy, speech therapy, psychological assessment, guidance counseling and awareness camps to students with disabilities. Registered under the Andhra Pradesh Society Act, Shantiniketan has a governing body as well as executive members and an advisory committee with members from various fields of work.
Inaugurated in October of 2011, Shantiniketan currently houses 24 children between the ages of eight and 21 years, contributing rehabilitation services along with conducting medical camps, providing medicine supplies, eye glasses and offering cataract surgeries under the DBCS project. These students, who belong to around six villages in the approximately 15 km radius around Shantiniketan are picked up by two mini autos at 9 am and dropped back to their homes at 4:00 pm. Their daily activities begin with a prayer, followed by breakfast and education about daily living skills and functional academic skills till 12:00 pm. The staff then provides them lunch followed by vocational training and recreational activities, five days a week.
Vocational training for students include making of envelopes and candles, book binding, commercial cookery, domestic skills, leaf plate making, baking, printing, horticulture, tailoring/embroidery, with a focus on agro based vocational activities.
“Before coming to this center, students used to stay home until parents came back from the farms or labor work. Some students were not trained in using a toilet, so they used to urinate in the house,” says Pannela. “But since they have started coming to the center, they are so much happier. Their hygiene has improved, and so has their behavior. When they have holidays they literally cry and want to come to the center. Students help others as they treat each other like family members. Parents are delighted with the support and the nourishing meals provided, and so are all the public and private sector people as this is the first center of its kind in Adilabad District.”
Pannela, who is currently serving as a special educator and consultant psychologist in Atlanta, hails from Adilabad District. He holds a Masters Degree in Psychology and M. Phil. in Rehabilitation Psychology, in addition to a Bachelors Degree in Special Education and a Diploma in Vocational Training & Employment for the Mental Retardation from NIMH Hyderabad, India.
“I got the inspiration (for Shantiniketan) while working as a mandal resource person in utnoor mandal, Adilabad district,” he says. His job description included enrolling students with special needs in government schools and educating government teachers and parents about students with special needs such as the causes for disability, interventions and teaching strategies. “The Government staff was not ready to provide services to children with special needs and ignored and disrespected my job” he says. So Janardhan decided to take matters into his own hands and came up with the idea of a sheltered special education organization and registered Shantiniketan in 2001. Shantiniketan however came into existence only in 2011 due to lack of resources and insufficient funds.
“Shantiniketan is the first volunteer organization of its kind to provide these unique services in Adilabad, a region that is still pretty low on the economic, medical and educational scale,” says Pannela. “According to our primary survey, there are at least 200 children with special needs in the communities surrounding Shantiniketan alone, who deserve our services. Unfortunately, we have been able to serve only a fraction of these children due to our extremely limited space and financial resources.”
Pannela hopes the community will support, in cash or kind, the efforts of Shantiniketan so that all the children in the district deserving of care can be served. You may visit http://www.shantiniketanadb.org/ for more details.