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I first heard about Diya Foundation about an year ago from a friend who works very closely with them. With their motto being “FROM DISABILITY TO DIFFERENT ABILITIES” ,Diya Foundation is a Vocational Training Center in Bangalore providing training and employment to intellectually challenged individuals. Founded in 1999, DIYA is a registered charitable trust. After being told about it and thinking I must do something, I promptly forgot about it until I met Sarah, the force behind Diya in the GS-ISB 10K women program.

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Sara, started her career at the age of 18 as stenographer after completing BA(Eng) but somewhere she wanted to do more and after seven years of work she felt the need to do something more worthwhile with my life, after strong resistance from her family she joined Convent of Jesus and Mary, Special School as a volunteer. She says “The initial reaction of nervousness and fear when I first met these special children of whether I would be able to work and understand them dissolved into love and a strong determination to do something  when I saw how loving, trusting and affectionate they were. What really called to me was the challenge in making the difference in their lives, in not giving up and in the firm belief that each and everyone of them is trainable”.  After a year of volunteering she was sure this was her calling and did  B.Ed. in Special Education from SNDT Women’s University, Bombay and continued with Jesus & Mary. Over time she realized that once a special child reaches between the age of 14 to 18, schools ask them to leave. She says “As special educators in schools we focus on teaching them functional academics and not on work skills which would help them get jobs so once they leave the school program there is nothing available and nowhere to go. This where the dream of Diya Foundation began. At Diya the focus is on training in work skills and employment”

 She adds “ Diya was started in March 1999 on a initial contribution of Rs.1000/- each from the 3 board members. The challenge was in getting materials for pre-voc training and the trainees were initially charged a fee of Rs.150 per month. “

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She says the journey of Diya has been amazing, From 3 trainees to 60 trainees; from the initial  Rs.3000/- to Rs. 35,00,000/- is where Diya has reached in 14 years. From searching for trainees to having a waiting list. Diya today has made a difference in many families, bringing their lives back to them in some ways.  At diya, Each trainee’s program is planned according to his/her strengths and daily goals and targets are set accordingly, they flourish and learn to draw from their strengths and weakness in their own ways

When asked about some of her favorite memories she says “Memories that will always remain are the ‘eureka’ moments in my trainees’ lives : that first eye contact, the first conversation initiated, the first time a work task was initiated or when they learned to tie the cords on a bag and hammer in the rivets. It reinforces all my beliefs that you do not have to go out into the world and do great things and make great changes. It all begins with every small mile-stone that my students achieve in their lives “

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While recalling the challenges she faced she says “The initial challenges were in getting in trainees, trainers, funding to run. Then as Diya began to grow the challenge was in finding a permanent  place. Once Diya began training students on vocational skills and started making recycled paper products, candles, we stopped charging them a fee and then the challenge was in marketing products and paying them a stipend to give them a sense of working and earning. Today the biggest challenge is still in finding a permanent place. Diya has moved for the seventh time in 14 years. Another challenge is finding job opportunities for our trained special adults. Corporates are wary of hiring the mentally challenged as they are afraid that they will not be able to fire them if they do not perform”

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Sarah has many dreams for Diya, she wants to Diya to have their own employment options wherein the trainees will be placed after training. She wants Diya to be in a place where they would never to have to say ‘no’ to a specially abled individual looking for training and work opportunities. She says “Today we have started two such work options: one is Diya Innovations Pvt Ltd – a gifting company – the marketing and employment arm of Diya Foundation and the sustainability model of Diya Foundation. The second work option is EKTA – our Self-help Group started with parents of our special adults and underprivileged women”

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Sara for me is true woman of independence and however cliché it might sound, the women of substance who wants to bring independence in not just her life but in everyone around hers too and if you would want to make Sara’s dream true you can donate here, I have pledged that if I win I will add that to Diya’s kitty and this season that is where I will volunteer too. Come join in making the world a better place, making Sara’s dream come true

For more information on Diya and  their products, check out their websiste http://www.diyafoundation-india.org/ and view this brilliant and touching video here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CKq0sKanqWo

This post Written for the Indiblogeshwaris Ladies Independence Special Contest in association with http://womenentrepreneursinindia.com/

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