In his final year at the government college of technology, S Ramakrishnan decided to appear for the Indian Navy selection exercise, with the intention of joining the defence services. But fate had decreed otherwise. He fell from a height during the selections and suffered multiple spine injuries that left him a quadriplegic for life. However, the accident opened an important chapter in his life.
He went through intense self-rehabilitation and decided to do something meaningful with his life by helping the underprivileged. So, in 1981, the International Year of the Differently-abled, he set up Amar Seva Sangam, with himself as its founder and first employee. He named the organisation after Air Marshal Dr Amarjith Singh Chahal of the Naval Hospital at Pune who motivated and inspired him to use his brain and energy to lead a positive life. Located at Ayikudy village in Tamil Nadu, it began by teaching basic English, Hindi and offered personality development programmes for schoolchildren. Its work soon gained recognition locally.
A decade later, there was another turning point. By 1991, Mr Ramakrishnan had the vision of building a full-fledged rehabilitation centre providing all facilities to the differently-abled under one roof. At that time, he came in contact with S Sankara Raman a young, gold-medallist chartered accountant who suffered from muscular dystrophy and was confined to a wheel-chair but had a lucrative practice. The two men discussed Amar Seva Sangam and Mr Sankar Raman was so convinced about Mr Ramakrishnan’s cause that he decided to devote all his energies to the organisation and even shifted his base from Chennai to Ayikudy, in 1992. From then on, the institution started growing briskly and has expanded its activities to provide education, training, institution-based rehabilitation, village-based rehabilitation and employment generation for the differently-abled.
This includes a home for around 50 children with loco-motor disability and associated problems. It runs a school for children with a wide range of special needs. There are hostels for the physically challenged providing food and shelter while undergoing education and training programmes for income-generation. The Sangam has early intervention centres, a special school for the mentally challenged, centre for rehabilitation of the spinal-cord injured, a physiotherapy centre, vocational training centres, tailoring and notebook making facilities, etc. Everything is offered free of cost to the differently-abled.
While Sankar Raman is satisfied with the achievements of Amar Seva Sangam, he, too, like other NGOs admits that fund-raising is a big challenge. “We try to meet this through various public relations exercises and participation in events like Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon, besides use of social media like Facebook, Whatsapp and simple emails too.” Clearly, as the funds come in, Ayikudy will continue to be a temple and refuge for the differently-abled. The institution generates some revenue from the sale proceeds of products like notebooks and garments produced by its wards.
Who does the actual work to move the disabled on to a forward track? Sankar Raman tells us, “Amar Seva Sangam’s annual budget at present is Rs8 crore. We have nearly 300 staff members and more than half of them are working in the field to render services at the doorstep of the differently-abled. We have physiotherapists, special educators, therapy assistants, special educator assistants, including speech therapist and special educators for hearing and visual impairments.”
Amar Seva Sangam’s work and dedication has touched the lives of over 14,000 people with disabilities in 800 villages in the districts of Tirunelveli, Tuticorin and Virudunagar through 460 self help groups.
Amar Seva Sangam is a non-profit organisation. Donors are eligible for income-tax benefits under Sections 35AC and 80-G of the Income-Tax Act. The Sangam also is registered with the home ministry under the Foreign Currency Regulation Act to receive foreign contributions.
Amar Seva Sangam
10-2-163, Sulochana Gardens,
Tenkasi Road, Ayikudy - 627 852
District - Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu