Imagine a diverse community of people, with carpenters, tailors, metal workers, printers, teachers, launderers, farmers, and practitioners of every other kind of profession that abounds around us. A community that is not only efficient, but almost entirely self-sufficient. A community where one’s station in life is not carried in appearance or ability, but instead on togetherness and compassion. If the Life Help Centre has successfully built such a community, it is because they have seen farther than most others, and found the difference between being disabled and being unable.

For over 20 years, the Life Help Centre (LHC) for the Handicapped has dedicated itself to the notion that what disabled people need more than anything else is the opportunity to retain or regain the expression of their fullest potential. On their 12-acre campus in the Chennai suburb of Adyar, this dedication has borne fruit, and produced a marvel of our times, the kind of special community that most of us only dream of.

This short profile cannot do justice to such a diverse group, yet it is indicative of what can be achieved with commitment and motivation. Over 140 children between the ages of 4 and 15 attend the Eva Integrated High School for the Physically Handicapped, at the Life Help Centre’s campus in Palavakkam. The facet of their lives that is most affected – namely physical mobility that hinders their learning – is as much a focus of the learning program as the academic knowledge that all schools incorporate. At the Navapraja School for the Mentally Handicapped, nearly a 100 kids, carefully identified to be trainable, educable or custodial, are taught the self-help skills to achieve a fair measure of independence. Alongside, the therapeutic abilities, yoga, hydrotherapy, speech therapy, etc., are also taught, greatly enhancing the program.

These institutions are fine examples of service in themselves, and yet the Vocational Training Program outdoes even this. 55 trainees currently are learning printing, tailoring, carpentry, and various other skills that make them truly marketable. The Centre assists its trainees in finding work, and even goes one step further, incorporating them into enterprising activities of its own. The Centre’s graduates often work for its own operations, making visual aids and toys for schools, manufacturing orthopedic appliances, operating a power laundry, a printing press, a bottling plant, and coconut farms, and I haven’t even listed half of them!

As the Centre has grown, the infrastructure to support it has evolved as well. Immunization and health clinics, dental and surgical facilities, X-ray labs, a self-run cafeteria, have all evolved to support its people, and these are often used to serve nearby rural communities at the same time. Not only do these provide a variety of employment opportunities, but they also serve as effective means of interaction with people outside the centre, which is important in preparing the students to take on self-reliant positions.

The diversity of the Centre provides abundant opportunities for others to participate in enriching the lives of its residents. For many of us, the easiest way to do this is to contribute resources, and the Life Help Centre is reputed for its extraordinary ability to squeeze utility out of every donation. Help pay the children’s meals, sponsor a child’s education, or simply send them donations in kind, and rest assured that your gift will serve its fullest purpose.

The Life Help Centre works so well because, above all, self-sufficiency and self-motivation are stressed. The goal is to help disabled persons attain skills and abilities that will facilitate their integration into the mainstream. The Centre’s message is simple – “Help us to help ourselves and others towards self-sufficiency”, at once an expression of their determination to succeed against the odds, and of optimism in their ability to create and lead meaningful lives.