Teaching them how to make fruit preservatives, handmade paper, stationery, natural dyes, and bakery products, Srishti Trust is empowering the specially-abled children of Munnar.
It’s Friday afternoon and I am heading to Munnar, Kerala’s tea town. The drive through the tea estates is so captivating that any thought of getting back to the hustle and bustle of city life seems like sacrilege. It is also the peak tourist season in Munnar, and with foreigners and Indians from far and near thronging it, the town has a buzz all its own. After passing through the Kanan Devan Hills, I finally arrive at my destination: a large campus with sunflowers, roses and other ornamental plants, housing a rehabilitation centre for specially-abled children supported by Tata Global Beverages.
A 25-year legacy
Established in 1990, Srishti is one of Tata Tea’s pet projects. Built with the intent to empower the specially-abled children of the local tea pluckers, the organisation has so far incubated 205 individuals who are now self-reliant. Started as a vocational training centre in November 1990 at Tata Tea's Pallivasal estate, it began as a day school in collaboration with an NGO. They identify children within a 35–40 km radius suffering from various kinds of impairments and after conducting the initial medical assessment, the organisation admits them to DARE — Developmental Activities in Rehabilitative Education.
Speaking to YourStory, Ratna Krishna Kumar, a trustee at Srishti, beams with pride every time she talks of these children.
It’s been 25 years since we started Srishti. From only four to five children, the organisation today hosts over 63 children who are being trained in life skills, basic reading, writing, and the fundamentals of mathematics and arts. Though physically deprived, these kids are extremely strong in their human values and are very active. Their zeal keeps us all motivated, so much so that every week that I spend with them is absolutely rewarding.
Based out of Mumbai, Ratna visits them every two months only to immerse herself in this rewarding environment. Her husband, Krishna Kumar, is a trustee at Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, one of the oldest philanthropic organisations in India. The organisation became a public trust a year ago — it can accept donations from voluntary groups though Tata Global Beverages Ltd continues to be its backbone.
Upon graduating from the school, the children are rehabilitated in the other projects at Srishti — Athulya (the handmade paper and stationery unit), Aranya (natural dye and textile design unit), Nisarga (fruit preserve unit), the Deli (bakery and confectionaries unit). The students — from preschoolers to young adults — are trained according to their challenges and abilities.
Their abilities have nothing to do with their age. So we make sure they are ready before we place them in one of our units or let them get another job, says Neela Guha Thakurta, programme coordinator at DARE.
Playing with colours
On graduating, most of the kids are employed at one of the above-mentioned projects based on their capabilities. They are further trained for at least six months before they are employed in one of the sectors.
It was initially a small paper-making unit in a small room but today most of the expenses of Srishti are self-sustained by the revenue generated from the products we make from these four projects, says Ratna.
The majority of the raw materials is produced at Srishti’s campus or bought from the local markets. These products are mostly organic and environment-friendly, considering the organisation’s interest to build a safe working environment for the specially abled. Each of these sectors has a dedicated staff working for over eight hours a day, producing products that are sold in the in-house shops and local markets.
Aranya: This natural dye-making repository converts every nature discard into a fabric that undergoes different forms of printing (natural colour printing, mordant printing, resist printing, batik printing). From saris, stoles, and designer fabric, this section employs over 20 workers.
60 percent of our products are sent as exports. With all these signature products, we also take consignments that revolve around dyeing fabrics, says Ratna.
Athulya: Employing over 25 specially-abled employees, this section fulfils all the stationery requirements of Tata Global beverages in the South.
Most of these products are made from waste, hence this section is called 'wealth out of waste', smiles Ratna.
From notepads, envelopes, and bags to boxes and greeting cards, their stationery products are transported to over 40 clients.
The other two sections, Nisarga and the Deli, where around 25 employees work, are into making confectioneries and bakery products. From bakery products to jams, these two sections have a glorious clientele in most of the resorts and clubs of Munnar.
Finding the silver lining
Working with the specially-abled has its own concerns. From locating the specially abled to convincing their parents, Srishti takes a keen interest in bringing the children on board in spite of the societal stigma attached. Ratna says,
Obviously, the stigma attached has come down now but the struggles are real. From early medication to marriages in same families, the awareness is quite prominent today.
As of now, the organisation is only based out of Munnar but they have been receiving requests from across the country, to which Ratna says,
Give me a dedicated workforce like the one at Munnar and we will definitely expand our work.
From daily wages, complimentary meals and free access to other health benefits, the organisation is an apt example of turning disability into stories that breathe fresh air.
As we step out of the conference room, we are greeted with smiles that are coated with compassion and warmth. With the phone in my hand, I bring all these kids together to click a selfie so that I can always experience the joy of the promising lives Srishti Trust will gift them with.