Mr. Jayaraman, Mrs. Rukmini Jeyaraman and I reached Renaissance Malarchi School at around 4:15 pm. Mr. Mahalingam welcomed us with a big smile. With full energy and enthusiasm, Mahalingam started introducing the Malarchi, Special Education School for Mentally Challenged Children run by Renaissance Trust. He indicated that most of the special education schools are in cities. Malarchi is the only school of this kind in the village. When inquired about the registration status, he indicated that the organization is certified by the State Government and approved by National Trust as well.
He then took us on a brief tour to show the facilities in the school. He showed us the classrooms, kitchen areas, dining areas and the mediation room. When we entered the meditation room, it was indeed very peaceful. All the children gathered in a big hall and when we entered they welcomed us with “Vanakkam”. On our request, they gave the thank you prayer, which they normally do just before a meal is taken. It was a moving experience. It contrasted in my mind the way these children would have been treated if they were not present in the school (Hats off to Mr. Mahalingam and his team).
Mahalingam – Parents immigrated to Sri Lanka and when he was 6 years old, he had lost both of his parents to diarrhea, as people didn’t know that they had to drink water/fluids during diarrhea. He wanted to raise the medical awareness but he could not become a doctor due to economical reasons. With the support from brother and relatives, he completed the pharmacy course. Part of the deportation of Malaiyagath Thamizhargal, he moved to India. He worked in Thanjavur in a sugar factory and with like minded friends started Renaissance in 1983 to serve rural people and youth. During part of the service, he came across mentally challenged children being treated very poorly in villages and wanted to start a school. He started the “school” in Pudukkottai without knowing the details and the nuances of what is involved in the education of mentally challenged children. The students left on the first day itself. Then through the National Institute of Mentally Challenged Children and Education in Hyderabad, he got trained on the special education of mentally challenged children. The training helped in proper running of the school.
As part of another project that Renaissance was doing, TDH organization from Netherlands was visiting them. During their visit, they proposed this school project to them. They liked the proposal and helped get a land for the school in Kalamvur and helped in the building of the school. They also provided the operating expense of Rs 1000 per child for 60 children. This helped in the professional running of the school. The school became a role model school for the TDH organization. After 5 to 6 years, TDH wanted to have the school handed over to a Christian for management. Mahalingam and Renaissance board did not want to do that. The board tried raising funds but could not and wanted to close the school.
Mahalingam did not want to close the school and the board requested him to take care of the responsibility. Mahalingam resigned his job in Thanjavur and moved to run the school full time. This created problems in his personal life and lead to the divorce settlement. Now Mahalingam lives in a small room right above his office and is there 24/7. As the TDH support was coming in, Mahalingam spent rarely anytime in the public relations. He did not know anyone in the community. He believed strongly that there will be a way to get through. He met the correspondent of Moohambikai College of Engineering who gave him 50 sacks of paddy and this gave him a moral boost as the basic need of food was taken care of. From that point onwards, the school has been running with support from local community. There are about 40 children now and if sufficient funds are available, the number of children taken care of can be increased.
The education is based on skills based education and there are around 218 skills that they teach, starting from how you put your shirt on. By the time of graduation, the students are well-versed especially in the skill set that is specific to village setting so that they can be helpful to their parents. Currently, there is no vocational training planned. The students go through meditation training as well (“Vethathiri style”). So far 8 children have completed the “graduation”. Mr.Mahalingam indicated that even though he does not have secured funding on a continuous basis, he finds a way to run the school, with support from various sources.
We thanked him and his team for the marvelous job that they are doing. I told him that the proposal and the discussion on how to support Malarchi will be discussed at the March 14th board meeting of Vetrivel Foundation and that we will be able to get back to him by March 21st.