By Nikki Stevenson
Travelling from Mumbai south to Kerala, the poverty observed is confronting but most definitely thought provoking. India’s poverty is heavily influenced by the caste system. Being low caste places restrictions on all aspects of one’s life – especially work opportunities. Low caste communities dominate strenuous and hazardous work roles. For disabled people of low caste the challenge of finding decent work is especially tough. The Srishti Welfare Centre aims to support these workers.
The Srishti Welfare Centre is a private organisation that provides education, paid work and vocational training to children and adults with a disability. Located in the picturesque countryside of Munnar, in the state of Kerala, the welfare centre is set amongst the mountains, with a lush garden of colourful flowers, vegetable patches, and a well-used children’s playground. What Srishti achieves as a welfare centre is extraordinary. Education is a key focus. Srishti accepts children from as young as 3 and a half years old and allocates them into classes based on their ability, rather than age. The teacher to student ration is generally 1:8, with students instructed in the Tamil language, but also taught English, and sign language, as many of the students have hearing aids.
Most of the students at Srishti are the children of local tea plantation estate workers. These children are provided transportation to and from the centre with some students travelling up to 30kms one way. Students are also provided with meals and all learning materials. The Centre is funded by TATA – a multinational conglomerate company that owns many of the tea plantations in Munnar.
Srishti also offers vocational training. These skills are taught from the age of 16 and include food processing, market gardening, training as pastry chefs producing goods for an on-site bakery, fabric dying and garment making, and paper making. All the products are sold in the Indian market and to tourists visiting the welfare centre. The proceeds are than circulated back into the centre to further support the education and skill enhancements of children and adults with disabilities. Srishti also supports their graduates find employment outside the Centre.The Srishti Welfare Centre is a clear example of an organisation that supports disadvantaged communities often overlooked by government welfare systems.
By Nikki Stevenson