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In another of the school’s success stories, Jijo Thomas was the first student from the school to get a job with the Kerala State Electricity Board, a department that maintains and supplies electricity across the southwestern Indian state. Mr. Thomas married fellow student Maria, and they now have two children.

While students at St. Clare find a sense of family and community at the school, forging connections to mainstream society is also paramount.

“When given a chance, our students do very well during their internships and work experience,” Sister Phincitta says. “We encourage companies to try out our students. The employers are often impressed.”

“People need to be open to them. Yes, these children have a disability. But they’re also blessed with many abilities and talents,” Sister Phincitta says.

When given a chance, Adith Suresh swam across the river Periyar, one of the longest rivers in Kerala; when given the opportunity, Salmanul Faris excelled in sport; when encouraged, Akhila P.S. won an award in Bollywood dance.

“We have to be more accepting of them,” the sister says. “We need to change our mindset, our attitude toward them. We should give them equal opportunities and then see them make progress and flourish.”

As one typical day draws to a close, Nanditha Shibu gathers her friends together for a Bollywood dance. The song they have chosen is from a film starring the superstar Shah Rukh Khan — the girls adore him. The music starts to play.

The girls put on a performance worthy of accolades.

“We regularly win awards at Kerala’s prestigious cultural programs,” says Sister Phincitta, who also teaches dance — including Thiruvathirakali, a traditional Hindu dance form native to Kerala. Sister Phincitta is pleased with the performance. So are Nanditha and her friends.

“Let’s do this dance at the cultural fest next year, so we can win,” Nanditha says to her teacher.

“And win we will,” she adds, before skipping out of the room.

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Anubha George is a former BBC editor and writes on Kerala culture. Based in Cochin, her work has been published in Scroll.in, The Good Men Project among others. She also teaches journalism at India’s leading media schools.



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