Champa Jaiprakash is an educator and an author, who has worked for the last 40+ years towards bringing a caring and wholesome education into the lives of differently abled children and adults. She, along with her daughter, run Saadhya Special school in Coimbatore. The school accommodates 15 students and is managed by a small team of 3 educators and 2 staff members.
The way Champa sees it, helping fellow beings has always been a huge priority in her family. She says, “Along with our own education and needs, we also have to accommodate others. It’s been inculcated in us from a very young age.” Charity, for Champa Jaiprakash, genuinely did begin at home.
Champa first thought of working for children, when she was in the 10th standard. While her exposure to education and psychology kept this interest awake, it really took shape when she helped one of the students in her classroom, with a physical disability gain significant progress. The fact that there was no arrangement in the curriculum to help the physically disabled, got her thinking. She immediately sensed a gap in the system and there has been no looking back ever since.
When her husband passed away, Champa’s children encouraged her to use the family’s real estate towards a good cause. Hence, Saadhya Special School was born.
When asked about her plans for Saadhya’s growth and development, pat is her reply, “Quality over Quantity.” It is her belief that, keeping her tribe small helps the team provide individual and undiluted attention to those who need it.
The team at Saadhya adopts a holistic approach to bring about an improvement in the lives of the differently abled. This approach involves counselling parents and caregivers, helping them cope with the mental and social strains, creating a safe space for parents and their children to bond, and providing vocational training that can help the disadvantaged attain economic independence.
When asked about the some of the challenges the school faces, Champa says, “Instilling a sense of confidence in the parents that the school is working for their child is a major task. The absence of this confidence leads to frustration and resentment amongst parents.”
There school has a rather universal answer to this problem – Dance! The team at Saadhya organizes dance therapy sessions, which helps create a healthy environment to destress, bond with each other, and create a sense of community with shared experiences.
And just like every other entity across the globe, the pandemic has had a huge impact on Saadhya. They school was staring at the possibility of students withdrawing from regular therapy. Which would have then caused a regression in the progress made by the students.
Thinking on their feet, Saadhya quickly developed a system that could effectively cope with, if not replace, the schooling that was now suddenly the responsibility of parents. The fee structure was made lenient enough that finance wouldn’t be the reason a child couldn’t attend their therapy. A timetable for individual and group activities was set in place. And come April- all their 15 students were asked to join classes and therapies online. Only 5 of them could join.
“A lot of parents asked for flexible timings, they had their work to manage as well. But it wasn’t something I could ask my teachers to do.” Parents suddenly had a huge role to play, and they took it head on. By demonstrating copious amounts of creativity and patience with the learning techniques, the parents began to better understand their children and the teaching process.
The silver lining to the pandemic was that it helped Champa address the need of training parents. It is also a huge part of the reason the school doesn’t provide boarding- to help parents participate more in the process. She believes it’s detrimental to society if parents view schools as a replacement for the care and affection required for a child’s growth.
When quizzed about her staff, Champa’s voice bursts with pride. The only condition she places before her team is that they do the job with a smile, and that if it doesn’t bring them joy and gratification, the purpose is defeated. She boasts that her team bring the same intensity and dedication to their work every day. Her goal is to be able to reward her staff better for their efforts and make their lives as comfortable as possible.
When asked about how she manages other aspects of her work, she has a very clear answer, “I don’t do other things, this is the only thing I do.” Writing for her is as important as her work.
“I’ve dealt with over 2000+ parents, and I listen to so many painful stories, and every time one listens to a ghastly story, one feels like crying. You can’t cry in front of them (parents), you must be composed in front of your client. I have to train my emotions, so I take my pen and I write.”
Her first book- “21st Chromosome and other narratives” (written in Kannada, and then translated to English) is an attempt, in the form of short stories, to make information and experiences more accessible to the public. She received a Kannada Sahitya Academy Award in the “author’s first independent book” category and went on to translate it to English.
It takes a mammoth heart to take up this responsibility, and lead with kindness, compassion, and empathy. Her experience speaks volumes with the kind of depth she brings to the overall learning experience. Sure, Champa had the good fortune of being surrounded with empathy and magnanimity from a young age, but to lead a life truly believing that they have more to give than to take from society is a choice weak people don’t make. Her bravado is in the kindness she brings to the world, the level of skill and experience she does it with. A kind heart, and a strong mind- unparalleled and priceless.
You can help Saadhya to continue bettering the lives of disabled children and adults. Do get in touch with Champa and her team to understand how the school can use your help.
About the Author
Sagarika is a comedy producer, a product designer by qualification and an animal lover. She believes in facing everyday with a laugh, if not always, with a smile. In her free time, she likes exploring the bottomless pit that is cinema, and if lost, is often found plucking flowers and befriending dogs.