Challenge Extraordinary: An anchor for the mentally challenged
Dr Nita Mukherjee 17 November 2012

Dr Nita Mukherjee visits a different kind of workshop

 
The joie-de-vivre you experience as you enter 204 Nirman Kendra is unbelievable. Happy music fills the air and warm greetings from members welcome you. This is The Anchorage at Mahalakshmi (Mumbai)—a sheltered workshop for the mentally challenged (not to be confused with the Anchorage at Colaba, a home for orphaned children).
 
It was set up by a group of five concerned parents and a special educator Preeti Sanghvi in 1989. The children of all the founders had trained in a special school for children that they had to leave when they turned 18. Concerned about what would happen next and a fear that their children may suffer regression drove the parents to look for options. Also, since the children had learnt some crafts and acquired the ability to execute repetitive work, these had to be put to use as adults; they had also to feel that they were ‘earning members’ of the family and not a burden, if they had to be integrated into society.
 
The Anchorage was registered as a ‘parents’ cooperative’ under the Charitable Trust and Societies Act. The main objective of Anchorage is to continue to provide vocational training and arrange for appropriate job work for mentally challenged adults. Over the 23 years of its operations, the workshop has grown into a holistic life space.
 
With time, the space too has expanded and added a second unit. Beginning in a garage, Anchorage moved to a member’s 200-sq ft room in a house. In 2001, with a large donation from the Japanese government, contributions from parents and other donors, they acquired office premises. “This was an important move. Today, these people can say—‘I am going to office’. It does a lot for their self-image,” explains Archana Khaitan, a volunteer. 
 
Nirupa Bhangar, the current director, joined Anchorage about seven years ago after a long career focused on education. She says that apart from job work contracts that Anchorage currently provides to some 30 adults—ranging from age 19 to 54 and disabilities ranging from Downs’ Syndrome to spastic and autistic—what’s distinctive is the integration of an ongoing training and stimulation programme. “In a lifelong facility like ours, it provides an opportunity for building functional skills and dealing with issues of daily living, grooming and hygiene,” she says. The job work is obtained from factories, hotels and other industrial establishments due to the trustees’ long association with the corporate sector.
 
All mentally-challenged adults over 18 years are eligible for admission. The only pre-condition is that he/she is toilet-trained and that one parent or sibling is willing to volunteer for at least half-day a week. There is a varied structure of fees which meets about a third of the expenditure; two-thirds is funded by donations and interest on the corpus. Money earned through job work and sale of products at exhibitions is distributed equally among members. Clearly laid out details of their policies are available on their website.
 
The workshop also has several recreational and fun activities. According to Archana, these add to camaraderie and zest for life at the workshop, nurture talent and are therapeutic. These include dance, art and craft and yoga. Indoor games, birthday parties, movies, picnics and outings at restaurants—all that normal adults do—are other fun events.
 
A part of the team’s effort is to increase the corpus through garnering donations—Anchorage has 80G certification under the Income Tax Act. Nirupa would also like more volunteers, especially those equipped to teach life-skills. There are three categories of volunteers: those who help with job work supervision and quality control; those conducting training & recreation activities; and students for project work. But most of all, Nirupa says she would like all of us to go beyond categorising her wards and others like them as ‘mentally retarded’ or even ‘differently-abled’. “We need to respect them as individual human beings, with differing sensibilities. Removing the deep-rooted prejudices is our challenge and I would like the support of all people in achieving this,” she says.
 
The Anchorage
204/205 Nirman Kendra,
Dr E Moses Road, Mahalakshmi,
Mumbai 400 011
Tel +91 22 2493 6346, +91 77388 60420
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