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Kids with intellectual disabilities abandoned by families find a home for life at Sri Arunodayam Charitable Trust

Moved by the indifference and apathy experienced by his older brother with an intellectual disability, Iyappan Subramaniyan started a residential facility for such children called Sri Arunodayam Charitable Trust. Over the years, it has reached out to over 300 children, many of them abandoned by their own families.

Mento was six days old when he was left at the Aandipatti Government Hospital in Tamil Nadu's Theni district. Hospital authorities looked after him initially to see if his parents would come back for him. Mento had an intellectual disability with developmental delays. When no one came for him for over two months, Mento was sent to Sri Arunodayam Home for Mentally Challenged Destitute in Chennai.

"Mento was immobile and dejected when he came to the centre", says Iyappan Subramaniyan, founder of the centre. "Gradually, we nurtured him back to wholeness and he is a happy little child today. He is learning something new everyday at his own pace. He is an intelligent child and has learned to express himself in different ways. All he needs is to be accepted for who he is".

Concerned by the indifference and apathy faced by children with intellectual disabilities, Iyappan started Sri Arunodayam Charitable Trust in 2002. Having witnessed the apathy and indifference of villagers towards his elder brother who was intellectually disabled, Iyappan wanted to do something for children who was abandoned by their families. While doing his education in the field of disability and rehabilitation, Iyappan realised that there are few residential based facilities for children with intellectual disabilities.

We have children with intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and autism across various age groups. We also have newborns. Many of our children were abandoned at government hospitals soon after birth because of their disability. They are from Tamil Nadu mainly, but we have kids from other parts of India too. What usually happens is that they come by train, land at Chennai railway station and with the intervention of Childline, come to our centre. - Iyappan Subramaniyan, Founder-Managing Trustee, Sri Arunodayam Charitable Trust

Life-long care, support

At present, there are 115 children at the home, including boys and girls, ranging from one year to 35 years of age. From one child in 2003, the organisation has come a long way, offering not just shelter and care but rehabilitating children through education and therapies.

"Children above 18 years are trained in vocational activities like candle-making", explains Iyappan. "The challenge we face is that unlike in other institutions, most of these children are here for life and there are no parents to care for them. So, the responsibility for the child is for life".

Funding is a major challenge as caring for children with severe intellectual disabilities requires specialised care and services. Some children cannot sleep on their own, for instance, says Iyappan. "We face a lot of difficulty in getting properly trained caregivers", he adds. "This is a big commitment and many people don't want to do this."

Despite these challenges' Sri Arunodayam has done some significant work, helping 349 children so far. Of this, 89 have been reunited with their families while some others have been transferred to facilities that offer specialised care. Among those to be reunited was Albert. "We were so worried and did not know what to do", remembers Albert's mother. "He was looked after so well at Sri Arunodayam and he learned so much there".

These efforts have won the organisation various recognitions within India and globally, including the prestigious World of Children Award 2016.

"I will never forget my first visit to Sri Arunodayam", says Niseen Ibrahim, CEO, Rangoonwala Foundation (India) Trust, a donor. "Meeting the cheerful and well cared for special children surrounded by very few material amenities but lot of love, affection and individual care from each team member."

Children with disabilities face huge risk of violence and abuse, those with intellectual disabilities even more so. Given this scenario, Sri Arunodayam's efforts to offer lifelong shelter and rehabilitation is truly remarkable.

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