Vijayalakshmi Rangapathy, Founder of Samrutha Vidyashram

The mediocre teacher tells. A good teacher explains and a superior teacher demonstrates and a great teacher inspires. (A quote by Arthur Ward). “Mine was the one who inspired,” says Amudha Renganatha, founder of Canopo International. I have made it to the top now. But, how did I reach here? I am not the one who tops the class in grammar or Mathematics but a slow learner who has felt the pain of learning difficulty right from the time I stepped into school. What I am today is because of my teacher, who has held me in her heart and guided me till now, says the 30-year-old.  

ha Renganatha, founder of Compo International. I have made it to the top now. But, how did I reach here? I am not the one who tops the class in grammar or Mathematics but a slow learner who has felt the pain of learning difficulty right from the time I stepped into school. What I am today is because of my teacher, who has held me in her heart and guided me till now, says the 30-year-old.  

“Till I met her, I always had a fear in me and never felt good about myself. The minute she came into my life, she changed it with her wand of unconditional love,” said Amudha.

“I was very bad in academics and scored only single digit marks. I suffered an epileptic attack at a young age. As I was put under a lot of medication, my parents were also told that it was not possible for me to do well in academics. They too did not force me. More than seizures, I was seized by inferiority complex. When I failed my grade 9 my parents took me to meet this wonderful teacher. The moment I met her something positive stirred in me. Next when she began to speak to me she made me believe that I CAN and I did,” explained Amudha with confidence brimming in her eyes.    

Do I need more to get in touch with this inspiring teacher? I began to comb the metropolis of Chennai (Tamil Nadu, India) to reach out to the revered soul.

As I walked into a serene street in Chennai, my attention was drawn to a slightly mentally-challenged child trudging along with a school bag hand in hand with her parent.

I immediately reminisced interviewing a lady, nearly a decade ago, who was keen to train slow learners to write exams conducted by the Indian government for Class 10 and 12.

I followed the child with little hope of locating the innocuous learning center, which then coached a small group of children with learning disabilities. I was sure that it would not exist as I strongly felt that somebody who was hell bent on going the extra mile, despite financial constraints, would have climbed  the ladder and relocated to a premises with more facilities.

With curiosity taking the better of me, I followed the kid as it turned round the corner. My efforts did pay me off and a familiar old building caught my attention.  I quickened my pace fell in step with the child and entered the porch with her.  I was surprised and happy to see that it was the same center I had visited years ago. A familiar sight of a slim lady engrossed in teaching a child, with visible physical disability, welcomed me.

Before I could open my mouth for formal enquiries, the lady gestured me to wait so that she could finish her class.

As I waited, I glanced around and found that nothing had changed in 10 years. Plaster was feeling off, the walls needed a dab of paint and the doors were almost off their hinges. But what had not changed was children occupying the classroom and in fact their numbers had increased.

In a few minutes, the lady walked towards me and introduced herself as Vijayalakshmi Rangapathy, the founder of Samrutha Vidyashram. My jaw fell to the floor and I could not but admire the transformation in her as she had dropped several sizes off her clothes. As, poor me, had piled up many kilos she could hardly recognize me. So, I had to introduce myself as the young correspondent who had splashed the news about her diligence and perseverance, to train special children, in a leading national daily , a decade ago. I also immediately understood that it must be Amudha’s teacher.

“Many of my students or ‘special children’ are now CEOs, directors and hold plum posts in various organizations in the city but I continue to be part of their lives forever,” she said proudly.  She then rattled on about her decade-long struggle to train every one of them.

Years ago, I took up children like Amudha and others into my fold as they were slow learners, as dyslexics and with other learning challenges.  Yes, Vijayalakshmi Rangapathy (Viji) had been an inspiring teacher and a savior for all them. The children were badly shaken as they were sent out of their respective schools as they could not grasp the curriculum and cope with their peers.

The idea of beginning the school dawned on Viji, when she saw a parent break down before the principal’s room as her child was sent out by the institution because she was dyslexic. “The parent and the school waited for a change in the child and it did not happen. But neither of them had taken any effort to help the child. As she had to appear for the Government board in the next 10 months, the school resorted to the easy option of sending her out,” explained Viji.

“Schools do not have the time or resources to assess the learning abilities of children like us mainly because the teacher-student ratio in the Indian scenario does not all give them time, said Amudha and Harsha Vardhan ( a physiotherapist now).”

To extend a helping hand to these special children , Viji enrolled in psychology and teacher training programs and completed the courses in two years. She quickly made inquiries with the Education department and connected with schools and parents of slow learners, those with delayed development parameters and specific learning disabilities  and offered to coach the children.

Not wasting a second, Viji developed a novel way of teaching the children. Her dozens of honed skills covered everything from discipline to making sure the children understood the concepts.

Viji is a the product of a new way of training special educators. She and her peers are drilled in the craft of the special classroom. 

According to Viji, many factors shape a child’s success. “As far as schools are concerned the quality of teaching matters. Parents care a lot about class size, uniforms and extra curricular activities and schools are concerned with streaming the children by ability. But both know little about how all these would make a difference to the special children. It is the teacher-expertise that matters,” she explained.

Passionate about the fact that some of these children are not given a chance to enjoy childhood , Viji believes that first of all  parents of slow learners and those with specific learning abilities should accept that their child has a problems. “Over the years, I realized that my hard work with the children will pay off only if I counsel the parents. I don’t want to blame them too as they face a lot of societal pressure and therefore consider academic performance as a key parameter for a child’s accomplishment,” she explains.  Therefore, she works in close coordination with parents and educational institutions.

With a heart swelling in pride, Viji said, “It’s heartening that some of my students are well-placed and working as CEOs, chartered accountants and journalists.  

Sindhu, Amudha and Harsha, who are now globe trotters in their field opine that years of struggle by Vijayalakshmi have made them what they are today. “Above all, she has slipped into the role of a mother and stood by us rock hard during times of crisis and instilled confidence.” 

Amma or Mother, that’s how all her students call. This one word speaks it all. How much she means to us? “She is our guiding soul and will forever be.”

Lalithasai

Lalithasai , a journalist par excellence, with an experience of over 25 years, has penned innumerable articles for the betterment of the society. For over two decades at The Hindu (India’s National Newspaper), she had written with sensitivity and understanding about marginalized women and children. She has also covered public education, communities, urban affairs and development in Tamil Nadu (India). She was actively involved in reporting extensively about the affected families in the fishing hamlets in India, when the tsunami struck in 2004. She has interviewed senior editors and liased with major media organisations to understand the situations and plight of women. Lalithasai who has many feathers in hat, has had her humble beginnings in a middle class South Indian family, but has risen to be an inspiration and tall leader for her own sisters and mothers in the world. she is a mother of two grown up children. Her son is an environmentalist and holds a position of repute in Henkel in Germany. Her daughter is a doctor,who is planning to pursue the subject in mental health. To know more about LalithaSai, please visit - http://www.lalithasai.com/

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