Awards 1998 The Lawrie Group Award for Social Progress

The Lawrie Group Award for Social Progress

The Winner: Hindustan Level Ltd.

Satish Dhall, chief executive of Hindustan Lever's plantation division, noticed a handicapped child left at home while his parents were working in a tea garden. He realised that other such children were left at home, too, and that they needed help to grow up as self-reliant people rather than a burden on their families. These families had received no help previously. There was no relevant centre in the area.

He also realised that his company had the resources to help. Employees were consulted about what the needs were. The result is Ankur (which means 'seedling'), a special education centre for 64 handicapped youngsters at Doom Dooma, Assam. It opened in 1993 and caters for any seriously handicapped five to 18-year-olds living in the area. Newspaper advertisements recruited youngsters from outside the tea gardens.

How do you find teachers for such a school in a remote rural area? It turned out that wives of tea-garden staff had hidden potential. Mrs Anima Barua, wife of a field manager, took charge as co-ordinator and trainer, unpaid. She has completed a training programme at the Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy and visited centres in Britain. There are two other full-time volunteers.

Two teachers, paid by the company, have completed courses with the Spastic Society of Eastern India, whose specialists make annual advisory visits to Doom Dooma.

Ankur has youngsters with impaired sight or hearing or other physical handicap, youngsters disabled by cerebral palsy or polio, youngsters with learning difficulties. They get free transport to Ankur, free meals and medical care, and free appliances to help them walk. All have made progress and become more independent. Two have gone on to ordinary school.

The Ankur pupils acquire some literacy and take part in recreation. There are different classes for the deaf and physically handicapped, the poorly sighted, and the retarded. Older pupils learn skills which can earn them income: cookery, needlework, crafts with bamboo and jute, tie and dye printing, painting. This helps to win them acceptance within their families.

Local people have been encouraged to take an interest through open days and an exhibition and sale at the planters club. Hindustan Lever has set up a similar centre called Kappagam (shelter) at Valparai, South India.