Tag: Schools and Teaching

Dressed to thrill

Dressed to thrill

Over the past few weeks we have been writing about events and episodes related to special and disabled children in Thane. The screening of the movie Black, the Triumph Foundation sports day for special children, the handicrafts of students of St. John the Baptist School for special children. Sunday, March 20, 2005 was World Disabled Day and today is the concluding day of what is observed as the world disabled week. And quite appropriately, our city once again turned its attention towards this section of our society. On the evening of March 20, the Jidd School garden was packed with over 100 special kids from four special schools of Thane: St. John the Baptist special school, Holy Cross special school, Jidd School and Sri Ma Snehadeep. Also present were parents of these kids, teachers of the school and dignitaries. The chief guest of the evening was Deputy Collector (special land acquisition officer) Sushma Satpute and the guest of honour was actress Reema Lagu. The Mayor of Thane, who is known to support initiatives for special children also attended.
 
The occasion was an inter-school fancy dress competition organised by the Inner Wheel Club of Thane Hills. The competition was open only to mentally challenged kids. The participants were divided into four age groups: below 8, 9-12, 13-18 and Over 18. Although the elimination rounds had already been conducted in the respective schools, there were many requests for spot registrations and organisers obliged by holding elimination rounds then and there, and selecting the top three winners from each age group. In the final round, the participants awed the audiences and special guests with their performances. Reema Lagu, who had never seen so many special children at one place at one time, performing on stage, was so touched that she said, "Now I feel like I must do something for special children at least three to four times a year." The performance of the participants astonished even parents, who confessed that they never thought their kids could perform so well on stage.
 
In the under eight category, Ankita Pawar from St John won the first prize for dressing up as the TV character Sonpari while a Jidd school student Manish Murdeshwar, who is confined to a wheelchair won the second prize for becoming a popcorn boy. In the 9-12 years category, becoming Lord Ganpaty got Rasika Bhosle from Jidd the first prize, while Maithili Thanekar’s portrayal as Jhansi ki Rani got her the second prize. In the 13-18 years category, Vikram Desai from Jidd school acted like Salman Khan and stole the hearts of the judges and won the first prize. Pratik Gulrajani from Holy Cross became Mahatma Gandhi’s and came second. In the 18 and above category, Tanuja Tirodkar from SJBHS became Jassi. When she came on stage, her books fell from her hand and the audience, who thought it was for real, was enthralled on figuring out that she was simply acting like Jassi. Sri Ma Snehadeep’s Avinash Shinde got the second prize for becoming a panwala.
 
Cash prizes for winners, gifts for all participants and food packets were distributed at the venue. There were also dance performances from students of all the four schools. The children were thoroughly enjoyed the evening and the Jidd school garden resonated with sounds of laughter, screams and many more sounds of happiness. Faces lit up, and dressed to thrill, these kids looked like a bundle of joy that left one with a feeling that cannot be described in mere words.  

Special skills

Special skills

Since the last three weeks or so, about 30 pair of hands are keeping rather busy, making various things that will be put up for sale at the upcoming Funfair. Rug Mats, various spices, chutney masala, jeera powder, embroidered handkerchiefs, pot paintings, candles, garlands, paper bags, pre-cut vegetables and several other items feature in the list of things that are being produced by these hands. There’s nothing groovy about producing these items, you may think, until you learn that these hands belong to students of the St. John the Baptist school for children in need of special care.

These young boys and girls, aged between 18 and 25, are either autistic or mentally challenged and have little chances of finding employment. So they learn soft skills at the pre-vocational training course that the St John special school offers. At the school, they are engaged in creating things throughout the year. To ensure viability, the school helps them make things as per the demand of the season. For instance, they make til sweets during sankrant, candles around Christmas time, and kandeels and diyas around Diwali. They also make rakhees for Raksha Bandhan, friendship bands for friendship day and many such articles at different period of the year depending on its demand. The staff members of the special school are their sales representatives, who network with the teachers and students of their parent school and junior college to sell these items. Many teachers regularly order pre-cut vegetables from these children. The money earned from selling the produce is distributed among the students. "The children, who are paid a salary for their work, feel terrific when they receive their pay. It makes them feel worthy," says Marry Ann Scott, the head of the special school section of SJBHS, a woman totally dedicated to the cause of special children.
 
The St John special school, the first ever school for special children in the city, was established in November 1978, as part of SJBHS. More than 25 years later, the school now has over 100 students on roll and the staffs consist of six trained teachers, four craft teachers and one social worker, managing six classes and a pre-vocational group. The principal of SJBHS Rev. Fr. John Lopes and school manager Rev. Fr. John Rumao take an active interest in the running of the special school. In fact, the funfair mentioned above is being organised in aid of the night school (remedial school) for the intellectually poor and a special vocational school for the differently-abled that school plans to start soon.

The funfair is part of the centenary celebrations of St John the Baptist High School, and will be held on April 08, 09, and 10 between 6.30 and 10.30 pm. Like other centenary programmes, this one will also be inaugurated by an well-known ex-student of the 100-year school. The funfair will feature will amusement parks, contests, stage shows, music, DJ nights and stalls for food, games and other merchandise. Any guesses, which will be the most special stall at the funfair?

Winning in the race of life

Winning in the race of life

On Sunday morning, 210 special children, from 15 schools in and around Thane, showed why they are called special. In spite of being disadvantaged in one form or the other, these children participated in a fifth annual "Triumph Run", a race event that was held at the Arya Kriya Mandal Playground near Police Commissioner’s Office. Triumph Run is an annual affair organised by the Triumph Foundation, a social service group committed to the cause of children with physical and/or mental disabilities, founded by Rotary Club of Thane Hills.

The Chief Guest at the prize distribution ceremony was Rajan Vichare, Mayor of Thane. Among those who attended the event were local corporators, principals and teachers of the participating schools and parents of the children. The event began at 9 am and went on till about 1.30 pm. To ensure that participants do not feel drained out, the organisers had made arrangements for breakfast and lunch.

Based on the intensity of their mental and physical handicaps, the participants were categorised as into 13 different categories. So there were different races for the visually impaired, hearing impaired, Ortho (on wheels), spastics without crutches and many others. There were children participating in a race with callipers and wheelchairs and running a distance of 50, 100 to 200 metres. To take care of any eventuality, there were doctors present on site. That’s not all, for there were races organised for parents and teachers too. Our new mayor, who is rather soft-spoken, congratulated the organisers for their noble efforts in creating awareness about the special needs of the special children. "You’re doing a fantastic job. In fact you’ve hardly left anything for us to do. Keep it up and do let me know if I can be of any help," he told the Triumph members after the prize distribution.

When special children perform sporting feats, they not only overcome specific physical and mental handicaps they suffer from but also transcend the psychological barriers. Regardless of the actual winners, who received cash prizes at the hands of the mayor, every participant was a winner. And so was the every teacher, ad every parent. Only, they won in a different race – the race of life.

Have skills, will earn

Have skills, will earn

It’s Christmas today, but special children of Jidd school received their gift from Santa five days ago on Sunday itself. And what a special gift it was – a vocational training centre. To gauge the importance of such a training centre, consider this: 40 million children in India are either physically or mentally challenged and a large percentage of these are denied their basic right to education. And even the few lucky ones who manage to study in school are left high and dry once school is over. When these children grow up, they have no option but to depend on others for who will employ them or what will they do?

The Vocational Training Centre at Jidd School, the first of its kind in Thane, is an attempt to answer this difficult question. The centre, which occupies two large rooms in the school’s premises, has been entirely sponsored by the Rotary Club of Thane Hills (RCTH). Equipped with professional apparatus, students will learn soft skills like producing paper bags and office files, screen-printing, producing liquid detergents and phenol and creating and managing a plant nursery. The latter will serve as a plant library, much like a regular book library, where you can borrow a variety of plants for a fixed period of time. The tools at the centre come with built-in safety, so that special children find it easy and safe to use. What’s more, to ensure proper training of children, school instructors completed a course in vocational training from the National Job Development Centre at Chembur, run by the Spastics Society of India (SSI).

Sanjay Sethi, TMC’s new commissioner, who was the chief Guest of the inaugural function, expressed his fondness for the Jidda School and promised to help the school in whichever way possible. For starters, he assured the school’s principal Shyamashree Bhonsle that he will grant permission to Jidda School for construction of the first floor to accommodate the growing number of students. In his address, Sethi appreciated the training centre initiative but also highlighted the need for savvy marketing of the products made by special children. He suggested the use of small labels which will point out that the products have been made by special children. "The market is very competitive and it is usually quite difficult to get orders unless you try something unique and appeal to the spirit of the people," Sethi said.

Marketing is without doubt an important issue, but the Rotary Club is confident that with the right approach, it would be possible to find a market for the products and services offered by these children. Already the TMC Mayor has indicated that TMC will buy files made by these children. "The next move is to make workshop shelters for these children where they will actually manufacture these products. We will hand over the operations of these workshops to Jagruti, which is the association of parents of special children," said Ravi Iyer, project in-charge from the RCTH. Iyer said they also propose to tap the other Rotary clubs of Thane, who already support the Jidda School actively in many ways.

The guest of honour at the function was Varsha Hooja, Team Coordinator of National Resource Centre for Inclusion, an arm of the SSI. Hooja was extremely impressed by Jidd School and said she had not expected a school run by TMC to be so well maintained and well run. She invited Jidd School and TMC to collaborate with SSI in their various projects.

The Vocational Training Centre is a step in the right direction for special schools. Let’s hope more and more special schools follow this example of teaching fishing, instead of merely providing fish.

Of Chacha Nehru and Chacha Deepak

Of Chacha Nehru and Chacha Deepak

Jawaharlal Nehru, whose fondness for children earned him the affectionate title of Chacha Nehru, did not distinguish between children of different classes, religions or nationalities. Once, while visiting an exhibition of pictures and cartoons, Nehru was delighted at the performance of the children. He expressed his delight thus: "As I looked at the pictures I thought of the vast army of children all over the world, outwardly different in many ways, speaking different languages wearing different kinds of clothes and yet so very like one another. If you bring them together they play or quarrel. But even their quarrel is some kind of play. They do not think of differences of class, colour or status." A wonderful and accurate observation that only a truly great man can make.

The manner in which Garden School at Cherai celebrates Children’s Day is a fitting tribute to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. The Garden School invites marginalised children from different sections of the society to the school and organises an entertainment programme for them. This year, on Saturday November 13, the school invited 18 girls from Divya Prabha, a home for street girls at Vartak Nagar, to its school premises, who along with the students of Garden School, enjoyed a special programme celebrating Diwali and Children’s Day together.

The children were divided into two batches. At 7 pm, the first batch, consisting of nursery students attended the programme. Later, it was the turn of slightly older students, (aged 4 to 10 years) from the Enrichment Class of Garden School. These older children were grouped with the girls from Divya Prabha. A magic show by city-based magician Shukesh Kumar was a big hit with the older children. Because the show was interactive (the children were made to participate in the magic), they thoroughly enjoyed the magic show. After the magic show, the children were served snacks. As they settled down, the highlight of the day, Chacha Deepak, made his entry. A unique personality, not unlike Santa Claus, Chacha Deepak was dressed somewhat like the Air-India Maharaja, complete with a turban, a colourful outfit and a long white beard on his face. Chacha Deepak regaled the children by his mere presence. He went around meeting all children, shaking their hands, playing with them, making a human train and generally entertaining them. Later Chacha Deepak (Deepak stands for Light) stand lit up sparklers along with children to celebrate the festival of lights.  

Anand Turakia, the man who became Chacha Deepak, is father of an ex-student of Garden School. He regularly involves himself with activities of the School and he played an important role in organising this programme as well. "I enjoy playing the role of Chacha Deepak. Many children try to pull out my beard out of curiosity. They want to know who is the person behind all the heavy make up and beard."

The street children enjoyed the programme as much as the school children. Before they left, Chacha Deepak presented them with a stainless steel glass filled with Diwali sweets. This gift is procured with the money collected throughout the year from the regular students of Garden School. Every week, these children contribute two rupees for marginalised children. In August, on the occasion of Independence Day, the school distributed fruits among children the remand home. The gifts may be small in value, but the thoughts of sharing and togetherness make them invaluable indeed.

Festival of Lights
On Monday, about 225 women   and children, who have no one to depend on, celebrated Diwali with enthusiasm and love, thanks to the   volunteers of the Council of Catholic Women of India’s Thane unit. For more than 10 years now, volunteers from the Council of Catholic Women of India have been celebrating Diwali with the inhabitants of Premdan, Mother Teresa’s Home for the destitute at Airoli.

The volunteers of the council spent an entire day with the inmates, creating rangolis, playing the guitar, singing songs, and dancing merrily to the popular Hindi songs. Firecrackers delighted the children and women equally and there was much happiness in the air. One of the volunteers Sharon Scott, who brought along with her people of different   faiths, sponsored Chicken Biryani for all 225 women and children – needless to say, everyone relished it. It truly was a festival of lights for the deprived women and children, because the love and affection the volunteers distributed lit up their hearts and souls.

Dancing to ancient tunes

Dancing to ancient tunes

Residents of Thane are known for their enthusiasm for festivals. And from August to November, there is a string of festivals, one after the other, which Thaneites celebrate with fervour. The ten-day Navratri festival, culminating in Dassera, is one of the big celebrations, with several mini-events gilding the main event. One such mini event is called the Bhondla dance. In the Hindu calendar month of Bhadrapada, when the sun moves to the thirteenth constellation of the zodiac called "Hasta" (Elephant), unmarried and newly married girls perform a dance known as "Bhondla" or "Hadga" and sing specially composed Hadga or "Bhulabai" songs. Bhondla begins with the installation of the deity’s idol and ends on the ninth day of Navratri. Like every year, this year too, hundreds of girls of all ages, and from across the city, were seen celebrating Bhondla by singing special Bhondla songs and performing dances throughout the nine day period.

Manjiri Deo, the veteran dance teacher, who has been teaching Kathak in Thane for 28 long years and has trained thousands of students, organises Bhondla for her students every year since she began coaching. This year was no different, as her students and their parents celebrated bhondla on Sunday, complete songs, dance and sharing of Khirapat. Deo says, "In Kolhapur, where I spent my childhood, Hadga (as it is known there) would go on for 16 days, and little girls would handpick different fruits from their garden, to make a garland which they would then offer to the devi. But in the urban setting, it’s difficult to spare so much time and so we organise Bhondla only for one day. This helps the new generation to learn about the age old tradition and also keep it going."

Another city-based institution that strives to uphold the cultural tradition is the Sarawati Mandir Trust’s pre-primary section in Naupada. The school instils the seeds of cultural heritage in the young by celebrating all the important Indian festivals in school. On Tuesday, 19 October, as many as 200 kindergarten children participated in the bhondla event organised by the school. Preparation for the event began a few days ago when the teachers taught the toddlers the words and tunes of Bhondla songs. On the chosen day, little girls sang and danced along with their teachers, while the little boys cheered them. Everyone, including teachers, was dressed in traditional outfits. In the classrooms, the blackboards exhibited the drawings of the devi and the elephant, and the relevance of the same was explained to the students. For children, the most enjoyable part of the Bhondla tradition is the making of khirapat, which is usually a surprise. This year the kids were asked to bring different ingredients that go into the making of Misal, the spicy, delectable Maharashtrian dish. So while the children brought onions, tomatoes and potatoes, teachers got farsan and usal, the spicy gravy that forms the base of Misal. Before the children could relish Misal, teachers taught them how the dish is prepared.

The enthusiasm of Thaneites is contagious and it travels places, literally and figuratively, as is evident from the way one group of women celebrated Bhondla. These 16 women travel to work every day in the 9.11 am CST bound Thane local and board the ladies first class in Thane and Mulund. Anagha Chitale, one of the group members, initiated the practice of celebrating Bhondla in train four years ago and since then the group celebrates it every year. So on Tuesday, all members came draped in saris, and were welcomed with the customary Haldi Kumkum and Ittar. One of the group members, Gauri, had brought Gajras, which she distributed to everyone, even passengers who were not part of the group. Then the women sang bhondla songs throughout the journey and shared Khirapat, which included a variety of items like dry fruit Samosas, kachoris and even chocolates.

In today’s pop culture, Bhondla may have lost out to Garba in the commercial sense, but those who value culture and tradition strive to uphold this ancient tradition by celebrating it in its true essence. It is in the hearts of such citizens that the rich Indian heritage lives.

Discovering your talent

Discovering your talent

"Hide not your talents. They for use were made. What’s a sundial in the shade," said the great American statesman and inventor, Benjamin Franklin. Talent, if rearranged, spells "latent". It is said that that each of us possess some talent, which is often latent until discovered. And the best time to discover your talents is during childhood, because then you have a lifetime opportunity to hone and employ your talent.

Last week, students of Sulochana Devi Singhania High School participated in the "cultural week" celebrations, an annual event that offers opportunities to discover and stimulate talent in various disciplines. The event is celebrated across all classes, from Junior KG to class X and throughout the duration of the event, hundreds of competitions are held. It culminates with the youth festival that is being celebrated today (October 02).

As in many schools, all students belong to one of the four houses: Vindya, Himachal, Yamuna, Ganga. Every time, a student wins, points are awarded to the house they represent. At the end of the festival, the house with maximum points is awarded the trophy.

While competitions for the higher classes are tougher and more competitive, those for the smaller children are designed to encourage them to discover their talents and then build their confidence in using them. Students of Kindergarten participated in recitation, drawing, fancy dress, handwriting and storytelling contests. Handwriting and storytelling was open only to Senior KG students and the latter turned out to be quite tough. "Only 30 students out of the 330 could be in the finals, and it was indeed difficult to decide, because all children were so good," says Sangita Pitale, Coordinator for the pre-primary section.

The fancy dress contest of the pre-primary section was a rather interesting event. Gone are the days when children would dress up as historical figures, cartoon characters or celebrities. Approximately 600 kids, 300 each from Junior and Senior KG, appeared on the stage – most of them dressed as inanimate and devise objects or intangible ideas. So there was an ambulance, complete with flashing lights, a Lotus flower, a scarecrow, spider with deadly legs, a silkworm, who actually crawled on to the stage, a mobile phone, a butterfly who came out of cocoon, pollution control, and even a messenger of peace. Of course there were also some who turned up as Pokemon characters like Picachio.

The various competitions got over on September 29. Of course, only a handful of children were declared winners, while the rest of them silently vowed to try harder next time. But it is not winning or losing that counts. It is discovering and using your talent. Like Leo Buscaglia said, "Your talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God." These children are in a process of unwrapping God’s gifts. Someday they will offer their own gift to God.

God of all ages
Hanuman Vyayamshala, the city’s 81-year old sports association, celebrated its 80th year of Ganpati celebrations. The enthusiasm of the students, ex-students and instructors of this institute is rather contagious. Each year, the students of the institute participate in organizing the Ganpati celebration right from the beginning. What’s interesting is that many ex-students of the association are now senior citizens. And the current members are usually school students. So on 27 September, hundreds of students, ex-students, parents and instructors got together at the institute to participate in the visarjan by playing lezim. It was a sight to see as Ganesha brought together the oldest and the youngest of his devotees, as they danced away merrily to songs sung in praise of the Lord.

Teachers are Way Showers

Teachers are Way Showers

On September 05, India observed a special day to honour those in the noble profession of teaching. The story goes that when the first president of India, Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, who was also a great teacher, was approached by few of his students and friends who wanted to celebrate his birthday, he replied, "instead of celebrating my birthday, it would be my proud privilege if September 05 is observed as Teachers’ day." Such was the love and respect that Dr Radhakrihnan had for the profession of teaching.

Last year, our current President, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, who is son of a teacher, spoke about how his own teachers had played such an important role in shaping his life. He emphasised the importance of good teachers and said, "A student spends 25,000 hours in the campus. The school must have the best of teachers who have the ability to teach, love teaching and build moral qualities." It is true that teachers mould the lives their students. The foundation of a sound moral value system begins at childhood. And teachers, along with parents, are the biggest influencers in this area of the child’s development.

In recognition of the role of teachers, several organisations from Thane organised programmes and felicitated teachers on September 05. A number of city schools celebrated teachers’ day on Monday because September 05 was a Sunday. But that did not deter students, both former and present, to wish their teachers on Sunday. This writer knows many batch mates from his alma mater St John The Baptist High School, who never fail to express their gratitude to their teachers on this day. And why not? Teachers are way-showers. Like Oprah Winfrey, one of the most successful TV celebrities of all time, said, "For every one of us that succeeds, it’s because there’s somebody there to show you the way out. The light doesn’t always necessarily have to be in your family; for me it was teachers and school." It is indeed a good time to remember that teaching today is far more challenging than it used to be. And therefore, teachers need all the encouragement they can get from the society.

The spirit of Janmashtami
After Teacher’s Day, it was time to celebrate Lord Krishna’s Birthday. Lord Krishna is the most charismatic Hindu God. It is hardly a surprise then, that Janmashtami is celebrated with such fervour and ecstasy the world over. On Tuesday, hundreds of young men were seen forming human hills across the city to reach the Dahi Handi and break it. The temptation though was not as much the contents of the pot (butter in Lord Kirshna’s case), but large sums of prize money announced by various associations.

Thankfully, just like the teacher’s day, many NGO’s and schools organised their own dahi-handi programmes. For instance The Saraswati Mandir Trust’s Pre-primary School organised a dahi-handi for its little students. Sevadham organised one for tribal children from villages on the outskirts of Thane. Every year little children are dressed as Lord Krishna and they enact the ritual of breaking a pot of butter. Only difference here is that there is no prize money involved luring them. The children, whether from the city or villages, were in it for the sake for pure joy. They celebrated Janmashtami in its true spirit. Now we know why it is said that God resides in the heart of children.      

Save Masunda
September is quite a month. After Teacher’s Day and Janmashtami, it is time to welcome everyone’s favourite God. Next Saturday we will celebrate the coming of Lord Ganesha. It’s time to rejoice. But it’s also time to contemplate about the environment we inhabit and our duty towards it. Led by Jidnyasa, several city-based NGOs are coming together to kick-start a week-long awareness programme that begins tomorrow with forming of a human chain around the Masunda Lake. The message to people is to leave the Masunda Lake alone, which has already shrunk a lot due to immersing of POP in the past years. "As citizens, it is our constitutional duty to conserve our natural resources," says Surendra Dighe, Managing Trustee of Jidnyasa. Here is an appeal from all the NGO’s involved: If you are an environment-conscious individual, please join the human chain and spread the message of conserving our natural resources.

To share and care

To share and care

Every year, September 08 is observed as the Feast of the Nativity of Mary. The birth of Mary is considered a miracle. According to ancient scriptures, Mary was born to Joachim and Anne (Y’hoyakhin and Hannah in Hebrew) on September 08. The feast was first celebrated in the East by the Church of Jerusalem, which was adopted by the western church around the seventh century. Ever since, thousands of people observe a novena before the feast. A novena is a prayer that is said for nine days. This year too, hundreds of thousands of people around the world are observing a novena which began on August 31 and will culminate on September 08, which is the day of the feast.

Everyday, the devotees who come to pray offer flowers to Our Lady. But this year’s there’s something different happening at Thane’s St. John the Baptist Church at Jambli Naka. The church realised that the flowers that devotees offer remain fresh only for a day or so, after which they start rotting and have to be disposed of. These flowers cost a lot too. So the parish priest at the church, Father John Rumaeo, made a noble request to the children praying at the Church. He suggested to children that instead of flowers, they should offer useful things that can distributed to the poor. So, by sacrificing a small part of their pocket money, the children are bringing in and offering different items on each day of the novena: Rice, dal (pulses), wheat, biscuits, soaps, sugar, books, pencils and even a little cash. On September 08, these things will be distributed to the poor who gather outside the St John the Baptist High school (SJBHS) in the pavilion area. Shirley Fernandes, a regular at the St John the Baptist Church, said, "This is good thing that the church is doing. It is teaching children to be responsible and to understand their role towards the society of which they are a part."

The rice, dal, biscuits et al may cost these children only part of their pocket money, but in return they are learning an invaluable lesson of caring by sharing. Is there a better way to celebrate Mother Mary’s birthday?

Dressed to kill
It is a known fact that extracurricular activities are as important to the overall development of children as academics. This is true, irrespective of whether the children are normal or special. Perhaps extracurricular activities are more beneficial to children with mental and physical disabilities than normal children.

Friday, September 03, marked the beginning of a unique inter-school fancy dress competition for special children from Thane. There are four age groups and five students from each group will be selected for the finals, which are scheduled to be held in December. Depending on the total number of schools/students who will participate, approximately 35 to 40 students will reach the finals.  

By the time this article is published, the first of the elimination rounds would have taken place and 105 special kids from Jidd School would have come on stage dressed like historical leaders, professionals, renowned sportsmen or even film stars. 15 from among them would have qualified for the finals. Next in line are 110 students from Sri Maa Snehadeep School for special children at Patlipada, Thane.

To ensure fair judging of the competition, only mentally challenged students are being allowed to participate. "The mental faculties of physically challenged children are intact and so they tend to perform better and therefore it would be unfair to mentally challenged children if physically challenged children are allowed to compete," says Sarmistha Chowdhury, who is the member of the Inner Wheel Club of Thane Hills, the organisation behind the competition. The club is also planning a similar contest for Kamalini and Zaveri Thanawala Schools for Deaf and Dumb. However, this contest will be organised separately.

The organisers invite all special schools from Thane to participate in this competition. They school in-charge may call on 25886538.

Teach a man to fish, he will eat for a lifetime

Teach a man to fish, he will eat for a lifetime

Give a man a fish and he will eat for one day; teach him how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime. It sounds cliched, but for special children from the underprivileged strata of the society, nothing makes more sense. These children, who are victims of a double whammy of poverty and disability, often find themselves in a precarious position once they grow up. Even if they are fortunate enough to go to a special school, they have nowhere to go once they finish education. No one wants to employ them. And their families, who are poverty-stricken, often consider them cursed, and therefore neglect their needs.

The new vocational training centre at the TMC-run Jidd School for underprivileged special children, launched on Sunday August 15, 2004, is an effort to change this painful situation, at least for the students of Jidd School. Later, more such schools can follow the example.

This year, the Rotary International is celebrating its centennial year and this vocation centre project (VCP) is part of the celebrations, initiated and organised by the Rotary Club of Thane Hills. The project is named TRUST, which stands for Training and Rehabilitation of the Underprivileged Segment of Thane. The centre will train the children in six skills: File-making, screen-printing, creating and managing plant nurseries, and production of paper bags, phenyl, and detergents. The teachers are being trained first and then the first batch, comprising 20 students, will be trained. Architect Ravi Iyer, who had designed the beautiful garden at the Jidd School, has designed the training-centre room.

The President of the Rotary Club of Thane Hills, N D Joseph, said on the occasion, "The primary objective of project TRUST is to enable the disabled." The club has also requested TMC to provide a sheltered workshop, where the children can be employed to manufacture products on a large scale. Not only that, even parents of these children can learn these skills and the club will help them in marketing the products. In fact Mayor Sharda Raut, who was present at the launch, suggested that the TMC, which requires large number of files, could buy them from these children. The other prominent persons present in support of centre were Deputy Mayor Subhash Kale, and veteran Shiv Sena leaders Satish Pradhan and Madhukar Sarpotdar, who was the chief guest.

The Inner Wheel Club of Thane Hills is doing its bit for the project by conducting baking classes for teachers and children. They will also provide them with the raw material needed for baking stuff. These children can then learn to bake cookies, cakes, biscuits and bread. Sarmishtha Choudhary from the Inner Wheel says, "Now, whenever there would be birthday celebrations or any occasion which requires baked cakes and cookies, we will buy from them."

It is indeed heartening to see that the special children from the underprivileged section are finally getting their fishing rod, as against only the fish. Soon they’ll go fishing for themselves. Now, that’s what we call an Independence Day gift – a gift of self reliance, a gift of freedom.