A Humane Initiative to Empower the Disabled

Kochi: Till then Dr. P A Mary Anitha was just like any other woman who was empathetic towards the downtrodden and the needy but never had any special plans to help change the lives of people around her. As part of her journalism internship, she had to work with differently-abled children at Sai Seva Sangh in Hyderabad, which changed her life, and thereby the lives of many such kids also.

“The institution I served was a high-end one but even in the midst of all the luxuries, the children there wanted love, care and attention. This made me think about having one such institution for the needy in our State,” Anitha revealed the story behind the inception of Centre for Empowerment and Enrichment (CEFEE) [www.cefee.org]. Having a doctorate in Ayurveda Tourism Management, she also holds an MBA and MPhil in Entrepreneurship. She is currently pursuing PG in Clinical Psychology.

She has been working with Vrindavan Group of Companies as Project Manager from 2007 onwards and also as a faculty member of the Student Police Cadets project. After getting married to Adv. Sabu Thozhuppadan she moved to Maldives as a teacher. On her return from Maldives after some time, Anitha started visiting schools, where she used to spend time with kids trying to understand their problems. She launched CEFEE on November 14, 2011.
CEFEE is a non-governmental organisation that aims to help bring about transformation in our society. It is a platform that empowers each of us to take the lead and initiate a positive change by creating sustainable communities. “Our primary aim is to enable the disabled; we stand for the disabled community,” says Anitha. CEFEE currently has four projects – ‘Uniquely Me’, ‘Jyothi’, ‘Break the Silence’ and ‘Love, Care, Respect’.

The project ‘Uniquely Me’ gives priority to the welfare of mentally challenged children. “Children’s Day is organised by the State Government every year for mainstream students while our kids never had the opportunity to celebrate it. Hence, we started celebrating Children’s Day with Snehanilayam Special School, Chembumukku which has 125 children with special needs. Now students from all the 42 Special Schools in Ernakulam district join us in enjoying a fun-filled day. We make this day very special for them with programmes involving celebrities from the film industry, entertainment, gifts, food and sweets for all,” says Anitha.

‘Jyothi’ was inaugurated on September 14, 2015 by Adoor Prakash, the then State Revenue Minister, at Parade Ground, Kakkanad in the presence of actor Mamootty. “As part of our drive to identify needy persons and enable them to lead a normal daily life, we have started providing some of their basic requirements such as disability cards, concession cards for railway, private and KSRTC bus journeys, and government scholarship called Ashwas Kiran,” says Anitha.

CEFEE had distributed 32 paediatric wheel-chairs, 35 computers, eight CP chairs, seven eye-hand coordinators, eight kits to assist mentally-challenged persons, four gaiters and knee ankle foot orthosis and walkers, nine exercising equipment, 286 disability cards, 1,604 railway concession cards and 864 private bus concessions cards at the inaugural event.

“CEFEE has developed a database of the differently-abled community in Kerala so as to help them meet their needs. This year CEFEE would cater to the requirements of 1,000 of them in the list,” says Anitha.
Now, CEFEE reaches out to more than 3,000 special children. Recently, Anitha alone had collected 1,987 train concession cards for the differently-abled from the Railways. There are around 8.50 lakh differently-abled people in Kerala. “Out of these, 3,200 go to special schools while 3,000 have joined normal schools. One special teacher is appointed by the government for every 12 schools. It is sure that just one visit per school in a month is not going to help the students much,” Anitha shares her concern.

It is observed that as many as one in three girls and one in seven boys are sexually abused at some point in their childhood. As an issue of social concern, CEFEE launched a campaign, ‘Break the Silence’, against child abuse. “As children spend a major portion of their time in school, we began educating them, their parents and teachers on the school premises. It included a one-and-a-half-hour session for parents and teachers, and a motivational session for students. ‘Break the Silence’ was inaugurated on August 8, 2014 at Sacred Heart Higher Secondary School, Thevara by Sheila Dikshit, the then Governor of Kerala.

‘Love, Care, Respect’ was initiated to source food, medicine and clothes for the inmates of old age homes. “Realising that they need more than just food and medicine, we started taking our families and kids to these homes and spending time with them, talking and caring,” says Anitha. In September 2017, she is planning to launch a new project, ‘Each One Teach One,’ which is a supportive teaching programme for children with learning disabilities.

“One volunteer will mentor a child twice a week. Also, the child will be given training in computer and food technology so as to help them earn a living independently,” explains Anitha. She also dreams about setting up an Entrepreneurship Development Area for the differently-abled with all facilities like meditation, recreation, skill development and therapy units. Recognizing her contributions, recently Dr. Mary Anitha was presented Dr. B R Ambedkar National Award for Social Work.