“My father immigrated to Malaysia (then known as Malaya) before the Second World War after marrying my mother aged 11. My mother joined him in Malaysia after the war and after 10 years of being married my parents had 8 children, four girls and four boys. Some of us were born in India and some in Malaysia. We all grew up in Malaysia and I completed my school education there in 1970.We immigrated back to India in 1971 after my father retired from government service. As my father was a heart patient, my parents wanted to get my elder sister and me married as soon as possible. For them, it was their duty to see us settled. I was very adamant that I should do my Pre-University and graduation and so applied and got admitted to Holy Cross College, Trichy on my own initiative and hence was the first graduate in my family. I knew that my parents were very positive about educating their children to the best of their ability. However, certain circumstances forced them to try to get their daughters married as quickly as possible. Completing my graduation seemed a great achievement for me. I am thankful to my parents for respecting my request and paving the way for what I am today.
After completing my graduation (B.A) in 1975, I was married into a conservative,joint family. After 10 years of marriage, with two children and an extended family to look after, I completed my M.A. in English Literature from Madras University in 1986. I then joined a small primary school to teach English and Social Studies for 4th and 5th standard. At this school, I happened to see a few children with special needs in my class. After teaching the class for a year, I initiated a resource room concept, where these children were taught academic skills on a one on one basis and then were put back with their peers. When some parents of regular children objected to having special needs children in the school, I resigned my job and started teaching these children at home. In 1989, Swabodhini, a school for special children was born.”
The following is a narrative by Prem Ganesan, son of Radha Ganesan.
My mother has been an epitome of passion, patience and perseverance. She has defied all odds at various stages of her life and career and has been a strong inspiration for people around her. Despite severe criticism from respected advisors around her, but empowered by strong support from family and most importantly a growing passion for helping special children, my mother started Swabodhini in 1989 at home with a few students on board. The number of students increased to 20 and she then moved to a rented premise in 1994 and there was no looking back. A trust was formed called Swabodhini Charitable Trust and it runs the school. My mother is the Managing Trustee and the founder director of the school.
Swabodhini today, trains students with Autism, Attention deficit hyperkinetic disorder, Down syndrome and learning difficulties aged 4 to 25 years. The school offers special education, occupational therapy, speech therapy, Yoga, movement therapy, kitchen skills, experiential learning and vocational Training. Vocational skills include paper cup making, photo copying, screen printing, making of paper bags and fancy jewellery.
To provide a strong and self-sustainable future for the students, my mother launched the Swayam Shoppe, a grocery retail outlet, to train the students on the nuances of working and managing a shop. This outlet included a packaging division to pack grains and pulses for a key customer which is a social entrepreneurship organization. My mother has placed three of these special needs students for full time employment in a multi-national company, one student in the bakery division of a leading restaurant and a few other students in various othersmall companies. She believes in empowering the mothers of these children with skills to improve the children’s mental health and also be earning members of the family.
While passion and dedication are key factors determining the success of any venture, my mother attributes a large part of her success to the sound foundation that was laid through her graduate and post graduate education.
Her journey continues!