Katpadi, Tamil Nadu: As a visitor approaches, N.S. Saravanan, 24, looks up and gives a wide smile. He is busy drilling into metal rods that will eventually end up in cars.
The organization that has put a smile on the face of Saravanan, who is mentally challenged and has had no formal education, is the Workshop for the Rehabilitation and Training of the Handicapped, or WORTH Trust, a not-profit organization based in Katpadi, some 135km from Chennai.
Special abilities: WORTH Trust, a non-profit organization in Katpadi near Chennai, trains and employs people with disabilities. (Photograph by Bapu Ponnapan / MINT)
“Three years ago, he came here holding his parents’ hands tightly and would never let them go. Now, he comes to work on his own. He is independent now,” says Myke Nunes, assistant manager- marketing at WORTH.
Saravanan, like many others in the organization, underwent a rehabilitation process as well as a training programme before he learnt how to operate machines and make light engineering devices for original equipment manufacturers. Now, he earns a monthly salary of around Rs5,000.
The trust was formed by Paul Brandon in 1962, originally to provide rehabilitation, training and employment to leprosy patients.
After leprosy levels in the area fell, the trust started focusing on orthopaedically challenged people. Now, it wants to bring speech and hearing-impaired people under its umbrella as well.
The trust gets business from companies such as Brakes India Ltd and Parryware Glamourooms Pvt. Ltd, allowing it to develop a financially viable model.
Brakes India is a manufacturer of automotive and non-automotive braking systems, while Parryware, owned by Spanish company Roca, sells sanitary wares.
WORTH has two divisions, for training and rehabilitation and for employment.
Around 200 people work in the three production units of Worth and profit generated from their products is ploughed back into the enterprise, with a share of the profits going for rehabilitation and training of others.
The trust’s production units are in Katpadi, Tiruchirapalli, some 316km from Chennai, and in Puducherry. Registered as small scale industries, they collectively generated annual sales of around Rs20 crore.
In addition to products for Brakes India and Parryware, the units also make plastic moulds for blenders and juicers, folding canes, wheelchairs, and light fabrication works. They also repair energy meters supplied by Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd to the electricity boards in Tamil Nadu.
WORTH also assembles Perkins Braillers in association with the Perkins School for the Blind in the US. A Brailler is a machine to write Braille that is the method used by visually impaired people to read and write.
“There are no special rules for differently abled people in terms of salary structure, number of working hours and working conditions in our country. We follow the Minimum Wages Act while fixing the salaries of the workers in our production units,” says K. Radhakrishnan, managing director of the trust. The minimum salary paid to an entry level worker is around Rs5,000 per month, he added.
The trust also runs two-year courses in trades such as machinist and draughtsman. These courses are recognized by the National Council for Vocational Training, an advisory body set up by the government of India.
“The main aim of our training and rehabilitation programmes is to make them independent and also socially acceptable citizens. We provide them with training and tell them—now you have the wings, go fly,” says T.G. Venkatesh, a vice-president at WORTH. In addition, WORTH also runs a transitional school for hearing and speech impaired children in Katpadi.
Hemant Kumar, 14, was one such mentally challenged kid, who has benefited from the trust’s activities.
“He was so hyperactive that it was hard to make him sit in one place, we didn’t know what to do. Then, we realized he loves plants and we taught him the art of gardening. Now, he can sit and do any kind of work that is given to him. He follows instructions quite well,” says Nunes.
S. Mythili, the mother of a mentally challenged child, says: “With the training provided here, my daughter is able to understand instructions and follow them. Before coming here, she was unable to do anything. Looking at her progress, I am extremely happy.”
At the sound of her name, Elakya looks up and smiles, even as she is trying to fit the various pieces of a puzzle together. Indeed, the jigsaw of the lives of Elakya, Hemant and Saravanan seems to be falling into place at WORTH Trust.