I thought I was being welcomed by flowers when I walked into SFCD as there were flowers placed at every nook and corner of the campus making it look colorful and full of life. There were also dogs approaching me as I walked towards the entrance. I was a bit scared as I was an a stranger to the place. But they simply sniffed me and went away. I couldn’t help but think how it hardly looked like a school but felt rather like a house with few people, no chaos, pets and flowers.
Madhumita Puri then guided me through this interesting program that is conducted for older, intellectually disabled kids from the age of 18 onwards. Run under the umbrella of the Prabhat Resource Center, it provides vocational training to the older kids, their families, and communities.
The flower recycling program has a very interesting concept. Used flowers which are used for decoration and other purposes are procured from hotels, marriages halls etc. The older kids then segregate these flowers based on their colors, types, and cut if they are uneven. These sorted flowers are transferred to the market for making rangoli powders, Holi colors etc. Not only does this give an employment opportunity to the disabled but flowers are recycled in the process too.
It all started with trying to clean the surrounding around the vocational center until a day when Madhumita started noticing a temple priest discarding the garlands on the road. She then took an initiative to dump these garlands in the river and clean the surrounding area. To her disbelief, she found the river contaminated beyond repair.
She then got them to the organization with an idea to do something with the dry flowers. “The river was so dirty that we brought the flowers back and wondered what could be done with them. Could we use it as raw material for a product? I carefully studied its strengths and found that though the fragrance could not be tapped, the colour could. A lot of Internet surfing and research led me to learn how to make dry Holi colours from it. Thus we started the Project — organic colours for Holi – and haven’t looked back since.” Madhumita has bagged an award for the same at Bangkok. It is indeed a flowering idea!
In the initial days, Madhumita observed that there were no funds for the raw material and resources. In the process she thought of a “Trash to Cash” project which is now recognized all the way through. “There was not enough for raw material, so we started collecting dry waste that costs nothing – audio, video tapes, paper, fabric, vinyl banners, flower garlands discarded by neighborhood temples. That became our raw material, which we then converted to utility items that we designed and perfected along the way.”
When asked why this started, she says, “Quality education was missing, so we developed workbooks that would guide the students and teachers along. But over the years I realized that parents were not convinced, especially the daily wagers who were preoccupied with eking out a living. They felt school for these kids didn’t serve a purpose as their future was in any case dim. That’s when I took the plunge into vocational training and Trash to Cash is an outcome of this.”
Today Trash to Cash collects flowers for the program from various temples and NGOs. It even collaborated with few other disability NGOs to produce packet-to-packet eco-friendly colours. It also provides employment to disabled kids. Over 65% of the workforce who work in the project are people with disabilities.
“That’s why we have a cross disability group. For instance, in making Holi colours, people with intellectual visibility and visual disability do the cutting and packaging, while those with physical challenges and hearing impairment convert the petals into color. In other products too, we have adapted machines for them, training each one to pay attention to the smallest detail, focusing also on their internal discipline to finish the work they started. In this way, we can involve all disabilities – cerebral palsy, autism, hearing, visual, intellectual, even old age,” explains Madhumita
Apart from these novel concepts, SFCD also has a shelter named Apne Sahare for all those runaway disabled people with a pressing need. These people are given shelter, food and even employment in one of their projects. “A lack of funds and resources sometimes makes it difficult for us to take in more people. It is usually NGOs like Salaam Balaak Trust which send their runaway disabled children to the center.”
Madhumita’s talk through the work was indeed inspiring. I was filled with colours and productive thoughts just like their projects after my conversation with her. She gave a new meaning to novelty itself with her models and curriculum. Her passion to provide resources and bring these kids onto the same platform is definitely worthy of an applause.