C.M. Kathavarayan, 67, lives alone in a rented house in the by lanes of Jeevan Bhimanagar, Bangalore. Everyday he wears his crisp white shirt; takes five steps to his right to find his cup of filter coffee on the study table. It’s 9 am, he takes his stick out and leaves for his second home, WARDS (Welfare Association for Rehabilitation of Disabled and Society ). “This has been his routine for as long as I remember. The man has never missed the 9.20 am prayer meet in 24 years,” says Aruna, his daughter.
The dream of a blind-high school teacherWARDS was born in a small piece of land in Jeevan Bhimanagar in 1992. With a strong desire to do something for the disabled, Kathavarayan, a school teacher, spent his all his after-work hours planning a place that would nurture the potential in disabled children. Years later in 2000, he took voluntary retirement after serving as a high school teacher to the visually impaired for 25 years; to focus all his time at WARDS.
“His vision was crystal clear, to create a place for the mentally challenged kids that they can call their own. A place where they are not looked at as outcasts or misfits and where teachers treat them as just students,” explained Aruna, who is also a teacher at WARDS. “Today, WARDS is home to 35 kids and I know for sure he will make that number grow to a 100. That is the vision of this blind man, who I proudly call my father."
From a folk-remedy gone horribly wrong to becoming an accomplished caring teacher
Born in Gingee, Tamil Nadu, he came to Bangalore at 7. As a child, he once suffered from high fever for 5 straight days. “My ajji (grandmother) kept trying various home remedies to bring down the temperature. One such attempt involved some herb oils being used eye drops for a guaranteed cure. It did drop the temperature but I lost my eyesight,” Kathavarayan said.
At 10, his parents enrolled him in a school for the blind. “Back in those days, blind kids were also assumed to dumb. The lack of facilities made us feel out of place. Teachers were not trained on how to connect with visually impaired students. This left parents with very few options. The children were usually sent to do petty jobs like packaging etc. Then, an English medium school for blind opened in Whitefield, Bangalore. My parents were not educated. My father did odd-jobs to support us. But their decision to educate me; to invest Rs 30 of the 100 he earned changed my life.” Kathavarayan completed 10th grade in 8 years. Went on to study B.A, M.A and B.Ed. He specialised in teaching the blind (DTB) and worked as a high school teacher for the visually impaired. He also taught teacher-trainees for 10 years.
"I always get asked why I chose to join my father's vision of building WARDS. I could have taken up any other good paying job and taken care of my family. Things happened. My mother left us, I got married, my sister did too. We all moved on. But even today, my father gets up with the same vivacity as 1992; with that undying energy of wanting to do better for our 35 kids. How many 67 year old can do that?”
How can you help?Kathavarayan has struggled and striven every day over the last 25 years to bring this institute to where it stands today. He is able to provide lunch for all the kids enrolled at WARDS and they go home fed, satisfied and smiling. But he wants more.
“Today, like every other day, the kids will be eating their lunch in the workshop. The same workshop where they paint diyas, make chalk pieces, candles and paper bags. Kids here are special and have their table etiquette, some want to eat in silence and solitude, other with their nonstop chatter, some need to be fed and will have their caretakers hovering around them. The room can barely seat 10 people. It is dark and dingy with a sheet roof that leaks at places when it pours. The lunch is healthy, but the lunch table is not,” said Kathavarayan - his face creased with worry.
He has envisioned a building for kitchen and a lunch hall to provide a clean and safe area for the kids. The total cost of this has been estimated to be about Rs 15 lakhs. Help him make this dream a reality. Donate here to support this selfless vision of a blind man.
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