By Samantha Gilliams
For the past week and a half, I have been working with Sristi Foundation, which is an inclusive, eco-friendly village and learning space for those who are intellectually disabled and/or marginalized in rural India. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities in India are not able to fully utilize their inherent human rights. Their talents, skills, and potential remain largely untapped, unconsidered, and underdeveloped. While their employment rate is very low, they have higher than normal living expenses and are one of the most impoverished groups in India.To end the cycle of poverty and disability, access to livelihood opportunities is fundamental. In 2013, a man named Karthikeyan Genesan created Sristi Village in order to establish a safe working, living and learning space for the disabled community in Thazhuthali, Tamil Nadu, India.
As a child, Karthik grew up in a mixed orphanage with disabled and non-disabled children. Over the years, he realized that disabled people were not considered equally in society, even though they had real skills. When he was old enough to leave the orphanage, he decided that he needed to create a place where these people could put their skills to work and recognize their worth. He created Sristi Village (“Sristi” means “creation” in sanskrit) as a home and as an employment and learning opportunity for this marginalized group. Over the past 3 years, he has acquired 8.39 acres of land near Thazhuthali and built approximately 10 huts by hand, including bathrooms and a kitchen, from natural materials with the help of the surrounding disabled community. Now, there are 30 residents at Sristi Village (20 members and 10 staff/volunteers) who are transforming the land around them. They have an organic farm fit with fruit trees, vegetables, a dairy barn, and a place for honey and mushroom cultivation. Karthik, the staff and the volunteers have taught their members valuable skills in farming and in life. One of Karthik’s main goals is to teach the members of Sristi that they are functioning individuals, who have skills and rights like the rest of us.
Frequently visiting Sristi Village during my time in Tamil Nadu has been an eyeopening experience. Karthik is an incredible man with a huge heart, who has devoted his life to making others comfortable. He cares for each of the members intimately and values the work that they do on the land. He is gentle and understanding, but knows the potential of each member at Sristi Village. He is not afraid to put them to work or sit them down to make them learn. The village functions in a structured and relaxed manner. I have not seen anyone raise their voices or acting out of hand. The village itself is pretty incredible, and knowing that it is functioning because of one man, a bunch of kind-hearted workers, and a lovely group of intellectually disabled folks (who are all working and learning from morning until night), makes it impressive beyond words. I am so grateful to have been able to work with, and spread the word about, Sristi Foundation during my time in India.
- If you would like to learn more about Sristi Foundation, please visit: sristivillage.org
- If you would like to see the “School Bus for Sristi” funding page we made, visit: https://www.generosity.com/education-fundraising/school-bus-for-sristi-village/x/15797840