Rajyalakshmi Chunduri: A woman on a mission

Rajyalakshmi Chunduri was over the moon when her son was born. But little did she know then that she’d soon have to deal with larger issues. Her son Bharadwaj was born with challenges that would lead him to be labelled as a person with mental disabilities all his life. And as Rajyalakshmi admits, “It took me a couple of years to come to terms with the fact that he wasn’t normal. I had never seen or heard of any kid like this among my family and friends and it was very hard to imagine what kind of life he’d have. I began to worry about him.”

Well, not only did she figure out a way ahead for him, but eventually worked towards starting a school that would be able to help other kids like him, who couldn’t afford the kind of education provided by “special” schools. “This was in the late 80s and early 90s, when being mentally handicapped was looked down upon. I really wanted to give my kid a good education and make him independent. I convinced my husband to move to Hyderabad from Rajahmundry, since the best schools were here and we enrolled him in a school,” she recalls, adding, “At some point, I realised that it wasn’t enough and decided to pursue a course to teach such kids. And soon after I had my younger child in 1990, I went ahead and studied again. I was happy to be able to help my kid.”

Living in Patigadda, Rajyalakshmi saw several children with mental disabilities and felt the need to help them alongside her son. That’s how the Pragati Institute for Reformation of Mentally Handicapped was formed in 1999. The school changed a couple of venues before finally finding a more or less permanent space in West Venkatapuram. “The school has no funding other than occasional help from friends and family. We often have volunteers coming to help whenever we need help to organise events. We have people pitch in to teach them dance or help in extra-curricular activities. Things are progressing pretty well,” she shares.

But the mainstay of her school, where no fee is charged for the kids, is simple. “Help the kids survive independently and make them capable of living in a public space. These kids do not have any kind of reservations from the government, which makes it difficult for them to earn a livelihood. That’s why we train them in vocational skills,” she shares. As for making them capable of dealing with people in general, Rajyalakshmi has made it a compulsion to take them on trips as often as possible. “We plan movies, picnics and any extra-curricular activity possible. We have seen many kids growing into mature adults with social skills,” she concludes.

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