Finding hope and humanity in service – The New Indian Express

They were denied education and opportunities.
Published: 30th March 2023 11:30 AM  |   Last Updated: 30th March 2023 11:30 AM   |  A+A-
Sankara Raman was recently honoured at the 21st CavinKare Ability Awards
CHENNAI: It was a trip to rural India somewhere around 1991 with S Ramakrishnan, activist, and founder-president of Amar Seva Sangam, that became a significant turning point in chartered accountant Sankara Raman’s life. Fighting muscular dystrophy since birth, he always believed in empowering persons with disabilities (PwDs) rather than providing welfare measures.

The journey gave him an insight into the lives of PwDs in the villages. “Polio was the major problem. Even though other issues like cerebral palsy and autism existed, most of them were forcefully kept inside their houses. They were denied education and opportunities.
Polio was misunderstood and everyone failed to realise the possibilities of rehabilitation,” shares Sankara Raman. To transform the taboos into a world of possibilities, he joined Amar Seva Sangam. For 32 years, he has been instrumental in helping people with disabilities see a world that was hidden from them. When he was recently honoured at the 21st CavinKare Ability Awards, he had nothing else to share but the continued, unrestrained will to make a change in people’s lives.

Finding possibilities
Having walked the road of hardships, it was sheer determination and support from his close ones that goaded him to become an educator and an inspiration. Explaining his genetic condition, Sankara Raman says, “Muscular dystrophy is a condition where your muscles won’t respond to the instructions they receive from the brain. Even though I was diagnosed with the condition in childhood, I was tied to a wheelchair since age 12. Until then I was more independent.”
From age 14, he had to stop going to school and opted for homeschooling. He recalls his family being supportive in taking care of him and adjusting to his needs. “My father, S Srinivasan’s job in the LIC demanded us to travel and move to different places. But, due to my health, he didn’t accept further promotions and we settled in Royapettah. He put me through Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani, and allopathy while taking care of my three sisters,” he shares. In class 6 when a teacher asked him what his ambition was, Sankara Raman confidently replied that he wanted to become an accountant.
His sister Sumathi who was also diagnosed with muscular dystrophy completed her doctorate in commerce. This influenced him and he joined intensive coaching classes for CA exams. He says, “The studying hours were from 7 am to 10 pm. I used to dedicatedly spend my time to crack the exam. I was never pressurised. I also didn’t spend much money on education since I used to top the exams. But, managing me was expensive. My medical expenses, insurance, money for the caregiver, everything added to the expenditure.” At the age of 23, in 1985, he cracked CA with a gold medal.
Changing the mindset
Partnering with the firm, Chandroo & Sankar, he continued his practice. He associated with Amar Seva Sangam initially for establishing their accounting system and helping them in other activities. Ramakrishnan introduced him to a whole new perspective of life as a PwD. In 1992, he joined the Amar Seva Sangam in Ayikudy and started contributing to it. Even though his parents were not in favour of the decision to move to Ayikudy, Sankara Raman took it as a challenge.
“We wanted to start an inclusive educational institution. So there were not more than 13 students in the beginning. In those days, there was no such thing as inclusivity in schools, so we began as an integrated school. There were classes from nursery to class 5. Most of the parents were reluctant to send their kids to our school but after they saw the changes the students had, they started to believe in Amar Seva Sangam. This was the initial victory of their combined effort,” comments Sankara Raman.
He adds, “There was an improvement in the kids’ language, self-confidence and so many other aspects. We also believed that our organisation is a transition phase in the kid’s life. Nobody is going to stay here forever. They are going to leave the organisation but will be a part of the community that will empower each other.”
After more than four decades, the institution has grown to accommodate more than 250 residents, 1,000-day scholars and 16,000 students in the community. It also provides support directly and indirectly to more than a lakh of people annually. Managing everything through technology, the institution adheres to cloud-based solutions for all its programmes.
To encapsulate all the knowledge they have gained as a team and pass it on to the future generation, Amar Seva Sangam now focuses on its Center Of Excellence. To all those who still consider disability as a stigma, he says, “When life gives you a hard time, you shouldn’t stop there thinking ‘why me?’. Instead, you should move forward by saying ‘Why not me?’”

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