Imagine being seated on a chair, with no one else in the room with you, other than a pesky mosquito buzzing near your ear. You want to swat it away; you try and move your arms to do it. Your brain has instructed your arm to move, but the signal hasn’t reached your arm, and you have to sit there and endure the mosquito’s buzzing until someone walks into the room and helps you.
Can you imagine anything more frustrating than this?
This is perhaps something that S Ramakrishnan and many others like him go through regularly.
S Ramakrishnan, a sexagenarian, had a million dreams as he was growing up in Ayikudi in Tamil Nadu. He went to the Government Engineering College in Coimbatore, and during his fourth year, applied for the armed services, hoping to make it to the navy.
Ramakrishnan went through various endurance and intelligence training programmes in Bengaluru. But the year 1976 changed everything for him.
During one of the sessions, he was to jump from a tree to a platform. Before he knew what happened, he had leapt off the tree but was on the ground, wincing in pain.
He was rushed to the military hospital, but the damage was done–he was immobile from below the neck.
The medical term for what he had suffered was tetraplegia.
Ramakrishnan came back to Ayikudi and tried hard to keep his spirits high, but it was difficult. He tried to start a printing press in his village but got no encouragement from anyone. There weren’t many people who wanted to trust a disabled entrepreneur.
What kept him going were the words of Air Vice-Marshal Dr Amarjit Singh Chahal, who would often say that there was much more to his life than a frail body.
This prompted Ramakrishnan to start Amar Seva Sangam, an organisation dedicated to the upliftment of the disabled.
We, at The Better India, spoke to Sankara Raman, the Hon Secretary of Amar Seva Sangam. Raman is a wheelchair user, affected by Muscular Dystrophy, who joined the organisation in 1992 after a lucrative chartered accountant practice in Chennai.
What does Amar Seva Sangam do?
The intent behind starting this organisation was to make a ‘valley for the disabled’. The Sangam rehabilitates and empowers people with physical and mental impairments. In its three decades, it has embraced more than 800 villages in four blocks of Tirunelveli district, touching a population of over six lakh.
Raman says, “The organisation is fully disabled-focused, providing solutions for various disabled-centric issues. We take on children from birth and have designed different programmes according to their ages–from early intervention to programmes for the youth.”
Recollecting his own growing up years, he says that he was self-confident because of how his parents had brought him up. The muscular dystrophy that Raman suffers from was discovered at three, and at every step, his parents encouraged him to challenge himself and achieve more.
“Seeing how much of a difference that push can make, I wanted to give that support to others, who like me, go through a problem,” he says.
He continues, “The concept of disability is slowly diluting – and people have to survive, whether they are disabled or not. So we are creating the environment of an inclusive society, where a disabled person is just another person. Disability should not be construed as a constraint; it is only a condition which they can overcome, and contribute towards the society as well,” says Raman.
What started with five students in kindergarten under a thatched roof has grown into a movement in itself.
In a video about this organisation, a beneficiary of the programme, says, “I came here when I was all of 12. I could not use my legs at all since it was polio-affected. After being here, I am now not only able to stand on my feet literally but also metaphorically,” she says.
What the organisation instils in everyone who lives there is immense confidence.
Whether wheelchair-bound or mentally disabled, the ability to do their work and be self-reliant is taught here.
Another young lady, who has been living at the Sangam, says, “Every time we would step out, people would either look at us with curiosity or pity. Here, none of that happens. We fall, we laugh, we pick ourselves up and keep going. I haven’t felt this liberated ever before.”
How can you help?
While the organisation is working to empower the disabled, it also provides them with self-confidence and mental strength to find their feet in society.
Get in touch with them at firstname.lastname@example.org or +91-4633-249170 to know more.
Here’s hoping that Amar Seva Sangam continues to inspire and change lives.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)