In December 2017, the Kerala Lalitha Kala Akadey Gallery in Kozhikode witnessed a rare art show. The paintings at the exhibition included those by Sruthin, a teenager who has been fighting autism, and Devika, a girl who was born without arms.
Called Swapnachithra, the seven-day exhibition saw as many as 22 young artists with disabilities take part in it. Organised by Dream of Us, an NGO based in Kozhikode, the event was a platform for these children to showcase their artistic talent.
"All the paintings exhibited were sold out, some for as much as Rs 70,000. We collected the paintings from the houses of the artists and exhibited them at the show. We needed financial support to conduct the show since we did not charge the artists, and a lot of people helped us to make it a success," says Majni Thiruvangoor, a history teacher and an artist, who curated the show.
"What's even more commendable is that all the participants, who have been fighting various odds in their lives, were also self-taught artists. The show was welcomed with a lot of enthusiasm and the feedback has been great," Majni adds stating that Minister Kadannappaly Ramachandran also visited the gallery.For the talented young artists, the success of the exhibition proved to be a major boost.
Five paintings of Balussery native Prisoto, who is battling cancer and is paralysed below waist, were put up in the exhibition. "He is our only child. He paints and plays the keyboard. Swapnachithra was the first platform where he got to exhibit his talent. We were overwhelmed that our son got an opportunity. The disease hit my son when he was studying in Class 1 and now he is preparing to write his Class 10 exams," Prisoto's father Vineeth proudly says.
The exhibition was so well received that almost immediately after it concluded, the government-run LBS Centre for Science & Technology hired a hearing impaired teacher at its Kozhikode Centre on a daily wage basis. Simultaneously, a Kozhikode-based friends' group also decided to start a painting school for disabled children.
For three years now, Dream of US has been working with children with disabilities in the region with an aim to bring them to the mainstream by eliminating communication barriers they often face.
They are at present working on a format to help hearing impaired children communicate easily with their parents.
"Parents want their children (who are hearing impaired) to understand their language when actually this should be other way round. Without being able to listen to what their parents say, how can the children understand the language?" asks KS Sukhadev, chairman of Dream of Us.
Sukhdev, who has been working as a trainer for hearing impaired children for five years, feels that the existing communication gap can be bridged if parents address the main issue.
"Currently, children with hearing disabilities face a big communication gap even in their own families and that must be addressed. We try to convince parents that it is them who should communicate in the language of the children," he states.
The NGO's next initiative is a nature camp for hearing and speech impaired children towards the end of March at the Guruvayurappan college in Kozhikode. The NGO is associated with Green Community, a addressing environmental issues, and through the nature camp hopes to spread awareness about the environment among the children. Summer fires are a common occurrence in the region and the camp will also focus on how to prevent it and protect trees.
"By taking the children to the camp, we hope that they will develop an interest in environmental issues. They will also get to be a part of nature in the real sense as compared to teaching them about nature in a classroom," Sukhadev says.