In Memoriam: Saraswathi Narayanaswamy, Founder, Balavidyalaya School for Deaf
Rich tributes are pouring in for Saraswathi Narayanaswamy, who founded the Balavidyalaya School for Deaf in Chennai and is credited as a pioneer in early identification and intervention of deafness in children. Mrs Narayanswamy passed away last week after a brief illness.
In her journey that started off as a young mother struggling to support a child with hearing loss to becoming a pioneer in early identification and intervention of deafness in children, Saraswathi Narayanaswamy touched the lives of thousands of children with hearing impairments and their families. The 78-year-old founder and honorary director of Balavidyalaya School for Deaf in Chennai passed away last week after an illness.
Mrs Narayanswamy founded Balavidyalaya in 1969. Currently celebrating 50 years, the school provides free education to children with hearing impairments. Children as young as three months are enrolled here and taught speech language skills to enable them to join mainstream education.
Former students pay tribute
Among them is Vijai Pranav, a master’s student of International Business Law Master Program at Queen Mary University of London, who posted this touching tribute.
Her purpose in life was all about us- to make sure that our life was happy and useful, to help us achieve our goals, to motivate us and show that we’re capable of doing something, to be honourable, to be compassionate and to ensure that we lived well. Her legacy will live on forever through the positives changes she has made in our world. If this school didn’t exist, I wouldn’t have come this far. This school gave me the voice to be a lawyer and I am forever grateful about that. – Vijai Pranav, Former student, Balavidyalaya School for Deaf
In an interview to The Times of India ahead of the school’s 50-year celebrations, Mrs Narayanaswamy spoke about what led her to start such a centre. “I was left with no help in training my child. I formulated my own teaching method for my child and worked along with him until he started speaking like any other child”.
Pioneer in deaf education
Gopinath Ramakrishnan, Co-founder, Special Child Assistance Network (SCAN), the Chennai-based parent support group, calls her a pioneer in the true sense of the word.
“My wife and I had sought her help for our son many years ago and her attitude was so positive”, recalls Gopi. “I have seen her show that side to everyone. In the case of her own child, she had no role model, so she carved her own path. She was determined not to send him to a so-called ‘deaf and dumb institute’, which was the only option those days. Instead she ensured he went to a mainstream school. She has intervened in the lives of so many children and their families for the better”.
P Rajashekharan, Co-founder, v-shesh, the enterprise that works towards skilling and employing people with disabilities, agrees. “The impact of Saraswathi ma’am’s work was very deep and she gave hope to many parents of deaf kids. We get quite a few alumni from Balavidyalaya and the quality of students is really good”. He calls her an ‘institution by herself’ and adds, “Her discipline, commitment, methodical approach, deep conviction and singular aim in ensuring that deaf children get the skills needed to function in the mainstream world is quite incredible. Her approach has inspired many organisations across India and Sri Lanka, which have based their models on her approach”.
Among the many moving tributes on social media was this one by Naleer Husna, deaf blogger and a former student.
“Countless parents and BV alumni today carry her message with us. Because of a strong belief in Deaf education and integration into mainstream society, we were able to achieve and show others what we can do..Rest in peace, Mrs. Saraswathi. We will continue to carry your message and keep the Balavidyalaya flag soaring high.”
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