A date with the disabled: Swarga's calendars feature models with special needs

Swarga was started by J.Swarnalatha who has been living with multiple sclerosis since 2009.
A date with the disabled: Swarga's calendars feature models with special needs
A date with the disabled: Swarga's calendars feature models with special needs
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Images of suave, dapper models or gods and goddesses are what you’ll find on the average person’s calendar. Many a time, people care more about who’s on the calendar rather than its readability. So would there be any takers for a calendar that features people with disabilities?

J. Swarnalatha, Managing Trustee of Swarga Foundation, Coimbatore, decided to find out.  Swarga, founded in 2014, supports the various causes of people living with disabilities, including the treatment and medication costs of those with neurological disorders.

Swarna's ‘I’m Special’ 2017 calendar – launched recently – features 12 “models” from across India, who are achievers in their own right, notwithstanding their disability.  There is a visually impaired Bollywood singer, a quadriplegic circuit racer, a paraplegic international sportsperson, a wildlife photographer living with muscular dystrophy, a Bharatanatyam dancer with Down’s Syndrome, among others.

Swarna, who has been living with multiple sclerosis since 2009, says she already has 2,000 orders for her calendars – wall hanging and table top – and hopes to sell at least 5,000 numbers worldwide.

Though the 2017 calendar is the second edition of the ‘I’m Special’ series, it is different from the first that featured six “models” from Coimbatore.  Swarna sold 2,000 copies of the first edition and by February 2016, she was searching for her next set of models for the year 2017.  From then on till October 1, when the calendar was released, it has been hectic for her, managing her models, photographers, the shoots, designing, and printing. 

But after the launch, it is a content and relaxed Swarna who talks about carrying forward the on-going projects of Swarga and shares ideas of projects that she hopes to realize someday. 

“Last year, I got to see a visually impaired person model for a television program.  When I saw that, it came to my mind why I shouldn’t do so too?  I might have multiple sclerosis, but I am not bad looking and was keen to model. Then the thought turned to why only me? I wanted to break the myth that people with disabilities are not good-looking, and that they are uneducated or not intelligent. So ‘I’m Special 2016’ happened,” says Swarna.

The funds from the calendar sales helped form part of the Rs. 15-lakh that the Swarga team collected to buy ‘Sarathi’, a disabled-friendly van, complete with wheelchair accessible ramp, chemical toilet, a sofa-cum-bed, three seats, and other facilities. The van will be let out for rent for people with disabilities on prior booking.  The van was launched with the 2017 calendar on October 1.

The making of the calendar has been an interesting journey for Swarna and the other members of Swarga.  But it has not been easy.  Swarna placed an online ad in February 2016 calling for models. Only four responded, out of which she selected one. The onus of selecting the other models fell on her.  Some she was able to convince easily, while some took time to agree.  There were a few others who promised but due to family restrictions cried off at the eleventh hour. 

Both the models she had chosen for multiple sclerosis could not make it to the shoot because of family pressures and hence Swarna herself had to model to fill that gap.  She is all praise for the five professional photographers who worked gratis for the calendar. 

It was not easy to travel to the various places the models lived in, get them into the costume and shoot them at the chosen location.  One or two shoots took even three days to complete, says Swarna.  To further cut costs, the concept and design were done in-house.

Swarna is happy not only because the sales of the calendars will help make a change in more lives but also because it has given a new dimension to the lives of the persons who have modeled for it.

And, the fact that she already has three volunteers to model for her 2018 edition goes to prove that the 2017 calendar has touched more lives than only the models.

Price of the calendar Rs. 300 /- Corporate orders of 100 or more will have their company logo printed on the calendars.  For orders: +91 88709-55111 / 98432-49854 / swargafoundation1@gmail.com / www.swargafoundation.org   

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