Suganya Kandasamy, from Triplicane in Tamil Nadu, was only a child when her father discouraged her from pursuing higher education.
“My father was a fisherman and had no financial means to fund my education. He also believed that women should not be highly educated. His words are still etched in my mind,” the 36-year-old tells The Better India.
Suganya says that it was then that she decided to study to the best of her abilities and become independent. “The hardships I experienced in my growing up years always made me feel terrible about the plight of children from financially weak families. Like me, they were also unable to get access to education,” she says.
Today, she has multiple qualifications, including graduating in Special Education and getting her Masters degree in Science, Psychology, Audiology and Speech Pathology. She has also specialised in intellectual ability, speech therapy and counselling.
“My desire to help the needy pushed me to struggle and reach the required qualification,” she says.
Teaching The Disabled For Free
Suganya started working with an NGO in 2010 which disabled children visited for treatment. “During my first lesson itself, I realised that I wanted to continue this for the rest of my life,” she says.
“The children from underprivileged backgrounds do not have the access and means to develop their cognitive skills. The parents are unaware of providing facilities to their children. As a result, the children suffer the most as their needs remain unaddressed,” she explains.
Suganya says that the social stigma and misconceptions about medical conditions further hinder the children’s growth in the early years. Moreover, accessing education for a child with special needs is expensive, and the underprivileged cannot afford the same, she adds.
She says that she gained the required academic skills and learned sign language during her stint at the NGO. It made her confident to start her own centre in 2014 called ‘Challenge Rehab Centre’.
“My father passed away in 2014, after which I quit my job and decided to dive into the cause. My mother was extremely against it and did not offer any support. So, I used Rs 80,000 of my savings kept aside for my wedding to start the centre,” Suganya adds.
She has been helping about 40 children with special needs through therapy classes and special education. Suganya also conducts counselling for parents and school teachers for free.
Suganya receives students mainly having Autism, Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities, Down Syndrome, hearing impairment and low vision.
“I charge Rs 200 per session unlike the fees demanded by experts in the field that range between Rs 1,000 and 1,200. Sometimes, I do not charge money from families who cannot afford it,” she says.
Watch special kids taking practical lessons at Suganya’s centre
Suganya adds that her efforts over the years have helped children enter inclusive schools and live comfortable lives. “They can speak well with improved motor skills and ability to attend classes in private schools,” she says.
Mohammed, one of the parents of an Autistic child from Chennai, says, “My son has Autism and did not speak or respond during our attempts to communicate with him or even socialise. My wife and I were desperately looking for experts to address his issues. But most of them followed a common template and charged exorbitant fees.”
He says that he learned about Suganya’s centre and approached it in 2019. “My son was 3.5 years old then. Over the months, he has improved. He now responds to our calls, understands names and recognises his parents. Suganya goes above and beyond to make sure your child improves to the best of their abilities. She also customises modules for improving skills. There is an evident improvement in our child,” Mohammed adds.
Suganya says that though improving the lives of children gives her satisfaction, her journey has been full of struggles. “Finally, my mother accepted me working for this social cause after five years. I was alone through the initial days and had no support from relatives or friends. Even carpenters and electricians refused to work while setting up the institute. I single-handedly did the minuscule and major work required when needed,” Suganya says.
Suganya says that over the years, the perception of people about her has turned positive, and they feel proud of her work.
She aims to start a vocational training centre and help as many children as possible lead a good life. “Many parents often express their concerns about their child’s future. The centre would ensure the children learn life skills for their livelihood and live an independent life,” she adds.
To know more about Suganya’s centre, you can contact her at 9884385869.
Edited by Yoshita Rao