At Sristi village, people with intellectual disabilities get the opportunity to find their potential
G Karthikeyan grew up in an inclusive orphanage. The experience of playing and interacting with children with intellectual disabilities led him to look at ways to enable them so they can lead fulfilling lives. That journey led to the start of Sristi Village.
An empty plot of land and a head full of dreams. That’s all G Karthikeyan had when he started Sristi Village in 2013.
“I spent 15 years in an orphanage that fostered over 100 marginalised children, both non-disabled and those with intellectual disabilities”, says Karthikeyan, who is from Puducherry, Tamil Nadu. “In our home we were all equal”. Differences were apparent only when it came to the world outside. “I could go to school, but my intellectually disabled brothers and sisters could not”, he says.
As Karthikeyan grew older, he realised how these differences affected life choices. “Those of us in the mainstream found jobs and felt integrated with society. But our intellectually disabled siblings were treated with pity not empathy”, he says.
Inclusive residential village
This led him to think of starting a space where people with and without disabilities could live together. It led him to start Sristi Foundation in 2013. Sristi Village was also started the same year.
There are 1.6 million persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities in India, 75% in rural areas. They are among the most impoverished groups in India. The Indian system favours an institutional model, which is to separate them in society. This traps them in a sad and often abusive cycle. – G Karthikeyan, Founder, Sristi Foundation
Sristi Foundation runs many projects that aim to change this. It runs a school for children with intellectual disabilities. Then there is Sristi Village, currently home to 50 people.
Living amidst nature
“Over seven years we have converted nine acres of dry land to a working inclusive village, eco-care farm and special school where every person feels valued and leads a dignified, holistic life”, adds Karthikeyan.
Anandh Raj is a staff member here. Born with cerebral palsy, he was orphaned as a child. With Sristi’s support he was able to educate himself.
“Schools would not enrol someone like me but Karthikeyan intervened on my behalf and urged the school principal to give me a chance”. Sristi also supported Anandh Raj with his dream of working in the medical field. He got a certificate from the Directorate of Medical Education and Training. “Today I work in the village and help look after children with mental retardation”. Anandh Raj also got married recently. “I was keen to marry someone with a disability and I found my life partner in Sivagami, who has cerebral palsy”.
Another key member of the team is Ebin Nevis, Head of Operations, Sristi Foundation. “This lifestyle where people live amidst nature and are connected with it is magical”, says Ebin. “I have understood how disability is connected with people and how eco-friendliness if helping people get back their humanity”.
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