Shuktara home in Kolkata,India

Submitted by Alison Saracena


My friend David has a home for young people who have varying types of disability. What is amazing about this home is that the most important thing for David is to provide the kind of environment where the boys feel safe and loved. All of his boys have no family and many have had traumatic experiences prior to coming to his home so this often took some time. There was never any pressure to go to school but at some point, each boy decided that he wanted to attend school.

Sumon Gushwami
Sumon at work The sad thing is that the schools they attended were not places of learning. Despite being schools forstudents like David’s, many of the teachers had no concept of child centered learning. Starting school at a late age is difficult, and the teachers didn’t seem to know how to make it any easier. There was a lot of failure which to my surprise was always blamed on the student, never the teacher. I even attended a debate at one school for students with disabilities where the question was – who is to blame for failure,the student or the teacher? I was the only one who thought that in most cases, it was the teacher whowas at fault for not trying hard enough to discover how each student learned best.

For David’s deaf boys school was very difficult. There was little understanding of deaf culture or how important sign language is to most deaf people. These boys had no family and probably no language training whatsoever during their early years when it’s very important to start learning language. Most of them are profoundly deaf and sign language is their medium of expression. Students were expected tolip read and speak, which guaranteed failure for most of his boys. I even saw one teacher face the classwhile talking, then turn around to write on the blackboard and continue talking with her back to her deaf students.Needless to say, eventually all of the boys dropped out of school after a couple of years.

Raja and his ArtRaja Mohan Das But this story actually has a happy ending. Because of the way David allowed and encouraged each boy to find and follow his own interest some very remarkable talents emerged. One of his deaf boys, Raja, paints beautiful paintings full of color and feeling. He shows incredible perception of the world around him and because he was not forced to follow any particular style (as most art students are advised to do here) he has been able to explore many different styles of painting. People recognize his talent – visitors to the home rarely leave without buying at least one of Raja’s works of art, and he has had exhibitions in someof the major galleries in Kolkata.
Learning can happen anywhere but it flourishes where there is an atmosphere where kids feel safe, nurtured and encouraged.

You can learn more about this project at www.shuktara.net