Date of Visit: Mar 12, 2009
Project coordinator: Kshama Kshade
RMKM is an organization mainly focused on women’s rights and empowerment in the Ajmer district of Rajasthan, India. The projects I have been associated with are initiatives for mentally handicapped children in Ajmer.
I traveled by train from Chennai to Jaipur along with my friend Stanley Berly. The train arrived at the Jaipur station early in the morning, and then we took a bus down to Ajmer immediately from there. The bus took about a couple of hours to get to Ajmer, and as soon as we landed, we called Kshama and got a ride to RMKM.
The RMKM campus and activities
At around 9am, we reached RMKM’s campus at Chachiawas. I had visited the campus earlier in 2005, and could visibly see several improvements and new vocational units. Kshama then gave us a tour of the building and campus.
We started with the vocational units including carpentry, paper products, embroidery etc. The vocational training program has been partly supported by Vibha since 2006. Chandrasekar heads the vocational training program.
RMKM has a showroom of sorts where they display many of their finished products. There are teaching and learning materials to be used in primary schools, made by the vocational trainers and finished by mentally challenged children. The teaching and learning materials can be sold to other schools, and RMKM may also be able to sell some through the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) scheme. There are several arts and crafts made by the children as well.
RMKM is an organization primarily devoted to women’s empowerment, and a big focus is their work through women’s Self Help Groups (SHGs). These women have formed a cooperative through which they make products and sell them at the Pushkar fairs. The social and economic position of these women has improved in society through these activities.
The National Trust supports the sale of products, and some expenses for the hostel etc. ARUNIM is an organization set up for that purpose, and RMKM had sold Rs 13000 worth of products through ARUNIM. ARUNIM had preferred the wooden products. They have also assigned RMKM to be a resource center for other organizations so that RMKM can make some money through training as well.
After we checked out the products in the showroom, we visited some of the outdoor vocational units like vermicompost, water plant, and rainwater harvesting.
The tiger and the goat
While we were outside, we saw a teacher lead some of the children in a game of “tiger catches goat”. This game allows children to mingle with one another and improves their reflexes and other psycho-motor skills.
The wood craft unit
Saurav was trained in 10 months. He is physically disabled, but now works full-time at the wood craft unit.
Paper cutting unit
Manoj initially studied at RMKM’s day care center. He has been working in the vocational unit for more than a year now. When RMKM first started working with Manoj, his initial diagnosis was social awkwardness and cerebral palsy (CP) with monoplagia.
Special education classrooms
The children learning here are at different levels, and each special educator works with only 5-6 children at a time.
This unit is used for physiotherapy for all the childen. The schedules are printed and pasted on the wall. While we were there, a trained worker was stimulating the nerves for one child, and another child was training to walk on the stair-step stool.
The deco unit
Here’s where RMKM makes its greeting cards, jewelry and other products that require decorative finishes.
Separate hostel rooms for boys and girls currently exist within the building. They are constructing a new hostel building with help from the Embassy of Japan.
After the tour of the building, I met Rakesh Kaushik and the accountant. We discussed RMKM’s accounts, and other operational issues. Shortly thereafter, we went into the mess and all the staff and children settled into a communal lunch. There was lunch prepared in RMKM’s kitchen, and also food that most staff members and children had brought. It was a great experience to sit in a circle, share stories and laughter, and sample so many different kinds of fantastic native Rajasthani food. We really gorged ourselves here, helped in no small measure by everybody insisting that we have more and more of the food they had brought.
Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) program
The CBR program is currently supported by Vibha and the Austin chapter of Asha. In this program, workers trained in special education, physiotherapy and speech therapy visit children periodically (about 1-2 times a fortnight). Parents and other community members are sensitized to the child’s issues and given training so that the child’s rehabilitation is continuous.
We first visited J., 8 years old and diagnosed with a severe handicap. J. needs daily intervention, but he is unable to come to the day care center where he will be taken care of better.
Mohd is 19 years old. When he was younger, doctors and others told his parents that there was no cure. His Muslim parents, in their desperation, had even taken him to various temples. His younger sister is also disabled. His father, who had a secure job with the Indian Army, gave up his job so that he could take care of his children. Mohd can now walk with the help of a walker and wheelchair. He has a natural talent with operating cell phones, and is now assisting in his father’s shop with accounts. RMKM has arranged for Astha disability benefits and insurance for the family.
G. was initially diagnosed with ADL. RMKM has been working with him for 2 years now, and he is now able to take care of some basic daily activities like eating etc. It will be better for him if he can stay at the RMKM hostel, but his relatives (no father) are reluctant.
R. is 17 years old, and RMKM has been working with him for a year now. His family is agricultural, and they own a few bighas of land. Since his childhood, his relatives have made him very conscious of his disability, and even when we were there, they were mocking his “lesser” brain. He was initially diagnosed with mild retardation, but because there has been no childhood intervention, he now needs more attention. RMKM wants to get him admitted into the vocational training program, as they feel that he can pick up a few remunerative activities. However, the parents hesitate to check out the program because they fear the loss of their daily wages if they spend a day traveling to RMKM’s campus.
Discussion with RMKM staff
Well up to 3% of the general population in India is suspected to have some form of mental disability, like retardation or autism etc. This translates into many thousands of children in the Ajmer district alone and RMKM is the only organization working on this issue. The resources available to RMKM in terms of funds and other logistics mean that they are handling far fewer children than they should, and are also strapped in terms of how well they can help these children who are distributed all across the rural landscape. They have been thinking hard and coming up with innovative means to reach more children and make their intervention more effective.
Regarding the vocational unit, they currently support only about 35 children. They can expand with current resources to about 100 children if travel could be arranged for them. In the hostel itself, lodging and food cost only about Rs 100/month. Vocational product sales range from Rs 50-100,000/year, but this is felt to be far below the potential. Part of the problem lies in Ajmer being located in a fairly remote area. They plan to focus on self-sustainability unit-by-unit.
Other ways to expand the number of children with existing resources are being explored. They can train physically handicapped children who can then help with the training of mentally challenged children. Some of these vocational units like decoration and vermicompost can be set up at community centers across the district.
Our RMKM visit concluded here. It was a wonderful experience interacting with all the children, the community members and the staff of RMKM.