|A Single Mother with 30 'Children'
Praise and awards have come her way, but she continues her search for better ways to bring a better life to the mentally retarded. C C Vijayakumari had her first real encounter with the problem when she met a woman with two mentally-challenged, grown-up girls in 1990 at her favourite temple in Chottanikara, near Kochi, in Kerala. The experience impelled Vijayakumari, a psychology graduate who had also undergone Montessori training, to enrol for a Diploma Course in Mental Retardation at the National Institute of the Mentally Handicapped (NIMH), Secunderabad. She passed the course with distinction.
A brief stint at Asha Niketan, Kottivakkam, taught her the value of individual attention and a home atmosphere in the care of such disadvantaged persons. This was followed by a spell as a special educator in a government-aided school, where she got the State Government award for the Best Teacher in 1993. That decided her future. She had this vision of achieving happiness "by giving happiness to at least 10 others". She founded the Sivasakthi Kaakkum Karangal where, along with her adopted children Meera and Vignesh, she is the foster mother of more than 30 children. Any system is good so long as it helps the child, she believes, be it Reiki, Pranic Healing, Physiotherapy or just simply faith in God. She also has home-inclusive programmes to train and counsel parents of mentally challenged children.
Vijayakumari is the "Akka", the pillar of support for the children in three age groups -- up to 6 years, between 6 and 12 and between 12 and 18. The first step on admission is toilet training. Then comes the crucial 'functional academics', which will set the range and direction of their capabilities. On the part of the parents and teachers, "the first step is acceptance that these children can never be like normal children and the only medicine for them is love and affection," she says. Sivasakthi Kaakkum Karangal, at 7, Ponniamman Koil Street, Alappakam, Chennai (www.bayindia.com/sivasakthi), which also has a day-care centre, is a mini-India with children from several States, many communities and religions. A branch was recently opened in Bangalore.
Vijayakumari hopes that one day, with the development of technology in detecting abnormality in the prenatal stage itself, the world will no more have such afflicted children. She credits all her achievements to her faith in God and, most importantly, help from neighbours and society. "That is the reason I chose Chennai," says Vijayakumari, who comes from a middle class family in Kerala. Among awards she has received are one by the Rotary Club and the Millennium Award of the Gnanananda Trust.
Nandini Voice for the Deprived January 2007
SIVA SAKTHI HOMES PROVIDE TRICYCLES
Siva Sakthi Homes(Siva Sakthi Kaakkum Karangal) is a Chennai based organisation devoted to the service of mentally retarded children, destitute children and senior citizens
Siva Sakthi Homes responded to the desperate calls published in Nandini Voice For The Deprived and donated
7 tri cycles to the disabled persons at Villupuram District in Tamil Nadu on 8.12.2006.
A function was organised at Sri.Aadhi Sankara Kamatchi Temple in Villupuram in which Ms.Vijaya Kumari, Trustee distributed the tri cycles.
Mr.P.N.Devarajan,Chief Patron of the Home, Mr.S.Rajesh,Project Manager, Mr.K.S.Jayaraman, Rotary Club of K.K.Nagar and Office bearers of Villupuram District Handicapped Welfare Society participated in the function.
Siva Sakthi Homes also entertained the disabled persons by providing lunch and the kind hearted persons from Siva Sakthi Home interacted with the disabled persons.
The Hindu on 7th August 2002
Special care for special children
| At Kaakkum Karangal, a home for the mentally challenged, the stress is on helping the inmates become self-sufficient.
"KAAKKUM KARANGAL"... it means hands that protect. An apt name for the Chennai-based NGO (Sivasakthi Sathya Sai Kaakkum Karangal), which cares for mentally challenged children and adults.
Heading Kaakkum Karangal is 39-year-old Vijayakumari, who is committed to those under her care at the spotlessly clean home in Alapakkam.
When Vijayakumari interacts with the inmates, there is compassion and concern in her eyes. This is easier said than done, for many of these children and adults have multiple problems. Whether it is Padmaja, who talks nineteen to the dozen and has to be helped to overcome some offensive habits or Ramani, who can identify any Carnatic raga, or any of the other 39 inmates, Vijayakumari strikes an instant rapport with them.
"Many of them have problems with speech, vision, hearing, while some can't walk. They are totally dependent. Some have been abandoned by their parents, while others have one parent," she says. Vijayakumari has adopted two such special children.
"We can't make them doctors or engineers but what we can do is create a family atmosphere," says P. N. Devarajan, a patron of Kaakkum Karangal. "Stress is laid on teaching the children to become self-sufficient," explains Vijayakumari.
Quite a few of the inmates have a mental age of less than five years though their chronological age may be between 12 and 50. IQ tests are conducted depending on which they are taught small tasks such as envelope making or gardening.
Some of them have a special task assigned to them such as cleaning, sweeping or doing some domestic chores. In fact, two of the rehabilitated inmates are now on the pay rolls of Kaakkum Karangal.
The routine also includes yoga, slokas, bhajans, storytelling sessions and visits by Reiki practitioners. The institution, now in its ninth year, is run on public support and donations from corporates. "We do not receive any Government aid or foreign funds," says Vijayakumari with pride.
In the early years when it was struggling to find its feet, residents of the locality pitched in by supplying food during the week, a practice that still continues. "I have never had to go anywhere in search of funds. I hope things stay that way. Word just gets around and our volunteers also do their bit."
Major corporate donors include Dr Anji Reddy of Dr Reddy's Laboratories, Chennai Willingdon Corporate Foundation, Ramco Cements and Chettinad Cement. In fact, the President, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam expressed happiness at the way the institution is being run.
A new building, Narayana Hridayam, is being inaugurated adjacent to the existing one on August 17. It will house 20 orphans and provide day care to 15 senior citizens, besides day and residential care for mentally challenged children. A study and skills centre for the underprivileged, a playground, garden and prayer hall are other additions.
A Montessori teacher, Vijayakumari took to working for the handicapped by chance. A native of Idukki, Kerala, she used to frequent the Chotanikara temple near Ernakulam. During one such visit, she saw a devotee struggling to take care of two mentally challenged girls. This inspired her to qualify as a special educator from the National Institute for Mentally Handicapped, Secunderabad. A stint at Asha Niketan International School, Chennai, and Mercy Mother India Charitable Trust, she later launched Kaakkum Karangal, which started in June, 1994, in a rented premises in Alwar Thirunagar.
Two years ago, Sivasakthi Kaakkum Jayamani Pani Illam, a branch, was opened at Bangalore. Winner of the best Special Teacher award from the Tamil Nadu Government in 1993, Vijayakumari hopes more people will come forward to do their bit for the mentally challenged.
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|Tuesday, Feb 19, 2008
‘Children of God’ P. SUNDARESAN
KADAVULIN KUZHANTHAIKAL — Autobiography: C. C. Vijayakumari; Sivasakthi Kakkum Karangal, 3/16 Ponniyamman Koil Street, Alapakkam, Porur, Chennai-600116. Rs. 250.
VIJAYAKUMARI, THE epitome of self-confidence and devotion to a cause, speaks her mind through her autobiography. Her great journey through life was beset with trials and tribulations right from her infancy. When conscience smote the teenager for being discriminated against, she quit her parental home with the guts of the “Pudumaippenn” conceived by Bharati. Vijaya turned a live wire wedded only to her work having been reckoned as an instrument of God. The book full of the philosophy of life dilates on this belief.
By her own choosing, she lives and works for the mentally challenged whom she calls children of God as well as destitute senior citizens. And she scored a hat trick by running a chain of Sivasakthi Homes in Chennai, Bangalore and Singadivakkam village on the outskirts of Kancheepuram. Focus is on the invaluable services being volunteered by humanitarians. Not to speak of the dedicated board of trustees. There is a loud thinking that translation of this in other languages will go a long way to further the cause.
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Sunday, Feb 17, 2002
A social activist with corporate muscle
Man on a mission: P.N. Devarajan
CHENNAI, Feb. 16
HE retired as the President (Corporate Planning) of Reliance Industries. But for P.N. Devarajan, changing the society became his next assignment.
It was a visit to Shiva Shakthi Kakkum Karangal, a home for mentally challenged children, which opened a new chapter in his life. It made him understand the commitment of social workers and the problems they faced in running their organisations.
He also realised that all that was required to solve their issues was planning and professional management. "The task was to bring business skills into social work," says Devarajan.
For instance, he realised that the biggest issue for any social organisation was food. To solve this, he formed the DOS (Dal, Oil, Sugar) club.
As a part of this initiative, housewives collected essential food products from their neighbourhood once a month, which was then channelled to various Non-Governmental Organisations such as The Banyan. Today, 2,000 kg of essential food products are collected every month from 800 families in the city.
Then, Devarajan put to use his immense experience and network of resources to lend a helping hand to Shiva Shakthi Kakkum Karangal.
"We built a new home for the children and a friend of mine donated his house in Bangalore," he says.
He now plans to create a home for senior citizens, orphans and mentally challenged children.
"This is an experiment; we want to create a therapeutic community by bringing these sections of society together," he adds.
In order to sustain these activities, Devarajan created the Manava Seva Dharma Samvardhani trust. The first objective of this trust was to bring recognition to social workers.
"We wanted to showcase people who were doing good work," says Devarajan.
Therefore, the trust instituted the Sadguru Gnanananda National Awards for social workers, which includes a cash prize of Rs 50,000 and a citation. Its winners include Vaishnavi Jayakumar and Vandana Gopikumar of The Banyan, who won the award in 2000.
Another initiative of the trust is the Centre for Social Initiative and Management (CSIM), a school for training social workers. (See Box)
The trust's next big idea is to empower the agents of social change by placing them on the payrolls of corporate organisations.
"Companies have cricketers or sportspersons on the rolls, similarly they can employ social workers," he says. He explains that this would give the profession the status that it deserves.
He also believes that support for social activities must come from the community and that the Government can only facilitate in policy formulation.
"There's so much of social inequality and we need millions of trained social workers to change the society. This is just a small step," he adds.
Monday, Jun 07, 2004
Man of the moment
| Reaching out has been Devarajan's way of life
ONLY RARELY does one give up his self-centred existence and take to an altruistic way of life. P.N. Devarajan has gone one step further. The septuagenarian who is a committed social worker now travels the countryside rallying those who want to serve society and helps them set up NGOs.
An engineer by training and an industrialist and banker by profession, Devarajan started the Centre for Social Initiative and Management (CSIM) an organisation committed to healing society's ills and help people with initiative start NGOs of their own. With a motto that reads: `come change the world' CSIM also offers a P.G. diploma in social initiative and management for potential social entrepreneurs and trains them in the nuances of fund raising, IT skills, communication, leadership roles, human rights, how to present a project and defend it with conviction. CSIM has branches in Chennai and Hyderabad and will be opening one in Mumbai soon.
Travelling back in time to what really sparked it off Devarajan says, "Even while working I had a natural flair for social work. My focus was on neighbourhood development. Alibaug in Maharashtra had my attention. A coastal belt with plenty of rainfall yet there was water scarcity. We worked on a back-ended project - no visible help but in the long run it makes people independent. My first project was Kaakum Karangal, a home for the abandoned in Chennai and this was followed by the Dal-Oil-Sugar club that helped collect rations for the needy." Having served as group president of Reliance Industries, director, Central Board of the Reserve Bank of India and chairman, National Chemical Laboratory, his retirement in 1996 left him time and opportunity to use his skills for what he loved doing best. "1996 was a year of great learning," he says. "The principle of management of divide is to release productivity and not charity. And across the social divide more people must intervene to bring about equanimity."
But how do you tackle the image of a social worker as one who lives on the edge of poverty and works for a Utopian goal? "It is a pity that we lack social work professionals and that social work is not considered a serious profession. The burnout rate is faster in professions with a market wage while social workers are entitled to a living wage, which more than meets their demands at the same time bringing tremendous job satisfaction. But most of the time even a living wage is not there. These people are driven by a desire to give back to society but it helps if they also possess skills. The youth and women should be involved. When you a motivate a woman, you motivate the whole family." To encourage women who excel in social work, the CSIM has instituted the Swami Gnanananda National Award. "It is an honour for us when they come forward to receive the awards. Their work triggers collective consciousness among the audience."
Customised to local requirements, CSIM works across NGOs promoting leadership. In Hyderabad the students of Loyola Academy act as consultants and volunteer on call. This is to promote the Confederation of Indian Organisations in Service and Advocacy (CIOSA) through students, individuals and corporates and addresses the generic issues of NGOs.
In a world where sons follow fathers in their profession, social work seems to have no takers. "I am confident that CSIM will start a revolution. There is not a moment to waste or feel burdened. Challenges have to be met head on." For the moment though, Devarajan waits in the wings gently encouraging those who want to better the lives of others as he has done. Didn't John Milton say, "they also serve who only stand and wait."