Arathi K T : Driven to Change the Lives of Children and Youth with Intellectual Disabilities
Hi! It’s me, Spiffy the interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth with the latest scoop on entrepreneurs making a difference in the world. Today’s rockstar is devoting her energy to improving the health, well-being, and education of children and youth with intellectual disabilities! Join me as I head to India to meet Arathi K T, the founder and managing trustee of Saadhya Trust for Social Development.
Spiffy: Welcome Arathi! Can you tell us about the challenges you’re addressing?
Arathi: Thank you for this opportunity, Spiffy. Saadhya Trust for Social Development works with intellectually challenged children, including children with autism, down syndrome, intellectual disabilities, and other disabilities. Our school has two locations and we provide services to 160 intellectually challenged children. These children face difficulties in their day-to-day life, and struggle to independently bathe, dress, eat, and use the bathroom (toilet). Because of their IQ, it is also difficult for many of them to study. These children will need to live their entire life under someone else’s supervision. Driven by a passionate and self-motivated team, we aim to improve the social status of 2,000 mentally challenged children and youth by 2030. With our innovative programs in special education, therapies, art and culture, sports, and vocational training, we facilitate inclusion and employment opportunities to mainstream these children and youth into society.
Spiffy: Wow, this sounds amazing! Can you tell me what motivated you to work at improving the lives of children and youth with intellectual disabilities?
Arathi: When I was a graduate student of social work at Mangalore University, I came across children with intellectual disabilities, and learned about the difficulties faced by their family members. The problems the parents dealt with made me want to devote my life’s work to these children. I had decided to learn more about them and went to the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences (NIMHANS) in Banglore for several months as part of my program. After graduation, I worked in a similar field focusing on corporate social responsibility for nine years, but my passion to work for these children motivated me to establish Saadhya Trust for Social Development in 2016.
Spiffy: It sounds like you had a very clear focus, Arathi. How are you working to make the world more equitable for the children and youth that you work with?
Arathi: My team and I are working on education and livelihood development programs, focusing on inclusion and mainstreaming. We create awareness programs for Anganwadi (childhood development) and ASHA (health) workers, schools, college students, and bureaucrats. We train children to be self-dependent through functional academics, pre-vocation, and vocational activities. We train our children in sports, art, and culture, and make sure they play inclusive games. We request the hotel industry and shops to hire them and give them dignified jobs.
Spiffy: Can you tell me about a recent milestone you’ve reached?
Arathi: Three Saadhya students participated in the Special Olympics World Summer Games held in Abu Dhabi in 2019. They brought back nine medals and were awarded a cash prize of 1,500,000 Indian Rupees (USD 20,600) from the government of India. We have had 15 students participate in the Special Olympics national-level competitions. Aside from these milestones, we are proud to report that 60% of the children we serve are independent in life skills, 25% of them moved from functional skills classes to academic classes, 13% of them are becoming computer literate and can match words, and 20% of the children can do vocational activities.
Arathi (right) with the student athletes and coach from Saadhya Special School Hosapete at the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi.
Spiffy: Well done! I’m sure your students and their families are incredibly proud and excited about all these milestones! I’m always curious about a social entrepreneurs’ experience with failure. Have you experienced failure, Arathi, and what have you learned from it?
Arathi: It is said that failure is the stepping stone for success. At one point, I made up my mind that if I were to fail, I would fail in my work, but not in life. I have to have a sound mind to face failures. I have undergone many failures every day, but the past 15 years working for this cause has given me such happiness. All the failures have taught me to improve myself. I listened to negative comments and rectified those mistakes. Whenever necessary, I have taken legal advice, which helped me be more cautious.
Spiffy: I’m guessing your students have taught you many things. Can you share some especially memorable things you’ve gleaned?
Arathi: You’re correct, Spiffy. My specially-abled students have taught me many lessons. They taught me that we can achieve things by taking smaller steps. One mantra I have learned is: try and try again, and one day you will reach your goal. In the six months that I have been associated with Shakti—The Empathy Project, I have observed that all their staff are very empathetic; they are ready to answer or help any time, and they never give the impression that their work is time-bound.
Spiffy: Before we sign off, is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Arathi: Yes, Spiffy. I have a few stories about my students I would like to share. Vishwanath, who has cerebral palsy and intellectual disabilities, joined Saadhya in 2016 at the age of six. He was completely dependent on others for even his necessities. Due to our constant training and therapy, Vishwanath can now walk independently and can do all of his daily living skills with minimal support. Another student, Veena, joined our school at the age of 20. Veena has moderate intellectual disabilities and behavioral issues. With our constant efforts, Veena went on to participate in the national and international powerlifting events. She won two silver and two bronze medals at the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi and was awarded 800,000 Indian Rupees (USD 11,000) by the Government of India. Through the training she receives at Saadhya, Veena is now financially independent.
Spiffy: What amazing and inspiring students! Thank you for sharing their stories. And thank you for sharing your work and motivation to create a better world for children and youth with intellectual disabilities. It’s been an absolute honor speaking with you, Arathi.
Mrs. Arathi K T is the founder and managing trustee of Saadhya Trust for Social Development. In addition to her work, Arathi is the Vice President for Special Olympics Bharath, India, and a National Trainer for Special Olympics Bharath, India. Arathi has degrees in special education, industrial relations and personnel management, and a master’s in social work. She has been involved in the Special Olympics World Summer Games and has been recognized nationally and globally for her outstanding work with children and youth with intellectual disabilities. (Nominated by Shakti—The Empathy Project)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s stories of founders building a more equitable world at www.ladderworks.co/blogs/spiffys-blog