An Indian enterprise is shaping up the dreams of the intellectually challenged through training and employment
There are several organizations which are playing a vital role in generating employment for the youths or for the other section of the society, but unfortunately, differently abled people have very limited or even no scope in this regard. The main reason being lack of understanding of the disability! Breaking the norms, Diya Innovations has taken initiative to employ physically challenged people.
Diya Innovations is a for profit social enterprise, that employs differently abled people. It handcrafts and market a range of chocolates, candles, recycled craft, handmade bags, photo frames, trays made from wood, goodies for Diwali, Christmas & Easter. All these unique products are designed and created at Diya.
The genesis of the enterprise was started 17 years ago when a vocational training centre for intellectually challenged adults was set up to prepare them for a productive work life. Over the last 17 years, many youngsters have been trained at Diya Foundation, in personal social skills, daily living skills, communication skills and most importantly vocational skills with the aim of making them ‘work ready’.
Finding jobs for those who’ve spent years in training was proving difficult and challenging. Companies and businesses in the city – large, medium or small, show hesitation in employing our youngsters. The hesitation stems from a lack of understanding of the disability and a lack of awareness of the strengths of this group.
In 2013, we decided to start a for profit social enterprise to provide employment to those graduating from training. At Diya Innovations we work with the skills that the youngsters learn during their training – craft making, chocolate making, candle making, block and screen printing, embroidery, gardening, packaging, folding, sorting, stocking, etc. Our mission is to empower differently abled adults through sustainable economic opportunities and resources to impact self esteem and self dependency thus celebrating their belongingness and personal excellence, said, Suman John, CEO of Diya Innovations.
Motive behind the cause
The terms employment, career path and financial independence do not mean much for the families of intellectually challenged in India. There are so few opportunities that the larger population sees a bleak future for their wards. A few special schools with dearth of special education teachers, high cost of special education as well as under developed pre-vocational training programmes, results in minimal schooling and low exposure to skills training.
In Indian society, like in many others in the developing world, there is a great stigma attached to being challenged, especially intellectually challenged. Due to poor infrastructure and lack of awareness, people in general hardly know about the abilities of this group living in isolation. Rarely do they go out of the house with the rest of the family; they miss family celebrations, community festivities and end up spending a lot of time alone. Parents fear melt downs, behaviour flare-ups and other embarrassing episodes in public. Sometimes, the existence of these children is kept secret to the extent possible in order not to affect marriage prospects for the siblings. Society shuns them, because of lack of knowledge, false beliefs and misunderstandings.
Parents worry relentlessly about the future of their children like, after their death who will care for them, will siblings/ guardians take on the responsibility of caring for their challenged wards? Sadly, families unintentionally train their challenged children to be dependent and reliant on others all their lives.
So how does Diya Innovations fit in?
At Diya innovations, the physically challenged people get training as well as employment. The income they earn contributes significantly to their families. This economic contribution, be it small or big, ensures greater inclusion in family matters, greater respect at home and in the community and results in higher self esteem for the individual.
Through our branding and communication, we encourage the community to get involved by buying the products we handcraft at Diya. By doing so, customers encourage employment and inclusion for the intellectually challenged in society. The company aims to be a model employer by employing a skilled team of people with intellectual challenges and impact their personal as well as financial growth of the families. By addressing this, we hope to reduce social stigma issues that affect this group of individuals. – Suman John
In future, Diya Innovations hopes to expand geographically and replicate the model in other cities in partnership with training centres for differently abled. In addition to craftsman, it hopes to add new job descriptions by encouraging companies to outsource their packaging, assembly, weighing and sealing, box folding and other requirements to them.