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Samarthanam – A Vision For The Future For The Visually Disabled

Raj Melville

Samarthanam – a vision for the future for the visually disabled

On a bright sunny Saturday, a crowd of devotees gathered outside the grounds of the Sri Lakshmi Temple in Ashland to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi. While the temple chariot trundled around the grounds with the statue of Ganesha, a small group was busy preparing the grounds for the dance performance in celebration of this auspicious occasion. However unlike other performances, this one was going to be different.

The attendees at the temple celebration were treated to a unique performance by the Sunadha troupe of visually disabled performers from the Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled. Together with their sighted gurus – Raksha Jayaram who teaches them Bharata Natyam and Manasa Joshi who teaches them folk dances – the group performed an amazing set of dances celebrating Lord Ganesha. The two dancers, Lingaraju and Gangamma, opened the performance with homage to Natraja and covered the dance floor flawlessly placing their offerings at the feet of the Nataraja statue. A preliminary walkthrough of the performing stage helped the disabled dancers to orient themselves spatially. Thereafter each successive performance exceeded the next as the group displayed a finesse and delicacy of demonstration on par with most professional troupes. Janak, one of their coaches, also performed a medley of Kannada songs based on western tunes. The performance was made possible by generous support of the Sri Lakshmi Temple committee when contacted by Ranjani Saigal. They immediately saw the opportunity to highlight the visiting troupe’s dance as part of their already scheduled Ganesh festival. In addition, led by KG Narayana and Prakash Purohit, the temple members helped support the troupe during their weeklong visit to Boston.

Samarthanam was founded in 1997 by Mahantesh, who is himself visually disabled, and two of his friends with the aim of providing opportunities for deserving, young, and talented children with disability of any form, or from marginalized economic backgrounds. Over the years they have built a school that provides education for over 600 disabled children and is designed to meet the needs of the physically challenged. Its emphasis on making the disabled full fledged productive members of society has led to a focus on IT and computer skill building. After training its students on the use of computers and assistive devices, Samarthanam has extended its operations with a couple of BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) centers where disabled employees provide call center help in local languages. In addition, Samarthanam launched a waste management program that collects and recycles dry waste and provides a sustainable source of revenue to the organization.

Samarthanam believes in all round development and is one of the foremost organizations to have a cricket team that has recently played and won major tournaments around the world. The Sunadha dance troupe is another instance of broadening the capabilities of the people who come to Samarthanam. Raksha and Manasa work patiently with the disabled students, holding their hands and helping them feel the poses and positions of the various mudras. The troupe is on a tour of the US that will span both coasts and has performed around the world and in many Indian cities. You can learn more about this amazing organization at http://www.samarthanam.org/

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1.meet September 14, 2011drakshayani 
2.To Contact Mahantesh while the troupe is on tour in USA October 1, 2010Raj 

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Sunadha Dance Troupe performance (Pictures taken at Sri Lakshmi Temple)

Dancer Gangamma in her Homage to Natraja

Lingaraju and guru Raksha Jayaram

Prakash Purohit thanks dancers

Mike Festa, President, Carroll Center for the Blind (center), Mahantesh (to his left) and the Sunadha dance troupe

Sunish Gupta guides Samarthanam on a visit to the MIT Assistive Lab

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