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  • Writer's pictureSupporting A Cause

Giving The Intellectually Disabled A Chance For An Independent Life, Diya Foundation Bengaluru

Updated: Aug 4, 2019

Based in Bangalore, Diya foundation is a centre that trains intellectually-challenged individuals in personal grooming, household management and occupational training to live an independent life. Providing confidence to these adults, Diya Foundation ensures a smooth transition from learning to identifying and strengthening individual abilities, while building self-awareness, self-worth, self-organization and self-actualization. 

From Disability to Different Ability

Differently-abled individuals remain highly dependent on their guardians for care and support. Parents are afraid to let these children into society and generally worry about how their children will sustain and fend for themselves after them, and may feel hopeless that the child may not be able to support them in their old age. It is difficult to find employment and develop skills for intellectually-challenged individuals. They cannot perform well under stress and may breakdown in situations at school or at a job; they need constant psychological support for their well-being.

Challenging this belief, Maria S. Santamaria (known as Sarah), began the Diya Foundation in 1999. With experience of working with children with special needs, having completed a Master’s degree in Special Education and having undergone training experience, she decided to create a vocational training centre for differently-abled individuals.

Diya Foundation believes that every individual must be self-sufficient and independent. Therefore, based on a 3-year program, all differently-abled adults who are a part of Diya Foundation are provided with seamlessly personalized vocational guidance to focus on each individual’s strengths and abilities, along with training in life skills, personal hygiene, expression and self-awareness.

Based on the admission criteria, a 3-month trial period is conducted to assess the student, learn parent expectations and program expectations before admission. On completion of 3 months, and with the parents’ consent, the individual is admitted to Diya Foundation.

The individuals undergo pre-vocational training to hone basic academic skills, personal-social abilities, work orientation, interpersonal skills, group dynamics, attention, discipline and behavior and positive self-reinforcement. Furthermore, they are taught finance management, home maintenance including cooking and cleaning, personal care, safety skills, eating habits and planning balanced meals, responsible citizenship, availing community resources and organization using fixed schedules.

Accordingly, working their way through issues gradually, they achieve self-awareness, confidence, responsible behavior, interpersonal skills and ultimately, independence. Diya Foundation helps them identify their aptitude and interests and help make realistic choices for real world jobs.

Apart from this, they are taught art, craft and technological and some expression skills. They also earn a living through training and employment in a) Papier-Mâché products, bags, gift tags and greeting card making; b) candle and diya making; c) chocolate making (sold under the brand name: Chocolyn);  d) computer data entry and multimedia work ; e) screen printing and gardening skills etc.

Unfortunately, Diya Foundation cannot permanently house these adults as it is a day-care centre and has to push and convince parents have to eventually find jobs for their children suiting their skillset. They conduct parent and sibling support groups for spreading awareness and understanding the family’s needs and expectations. Thoughtfully, Diya Foundation has undertaken an independent project called Diya Innovations Pvt. Ltd., which supports employment and provides job opportunities and placements for differently-abled adults. Currently, Diya Foundation has 13 staff members, with 7 others working for Diya Innovations.


Our Visit

We had read about Diya Foundation before, but we were pleasantly surprised during our visit. It was a great experience to see for ourselves how a simple opportunity empowers differently-abled individuals.

As we entered, we were greeted by the receptionist, who was one of the trainees herself. The trainees were adults like us, but their innocence was absolutely apparent. When we asked them what they were doing, one of the girls told us she was making gift tags and one of the boys who is adept at screen printing and computer work designs e-Cards or does photo edits and also offered to help us with our projects.

Our conversation with Mrs. Maria Santamaria (CEO) was an enlightening experience. She has dedicated her life to this cause and ensures that each student feels confident, secure, independent and accepted in society.

Our key take-away from this trip was the passion, love, patience and commitment shown by the team members of Diya and their belief in each student they train. They truly put their selfless love and heart with each person they work with. The individual coming to the centre feels more productive and follows a set schedule and is able to build their self-confidence and security.

Diya Foundation plans to impact 500 adults with intellectual challenges through work skills, in the near future and form a network with likeminded special schools and NGOs.

The foundation runs on donations from individuals and companies. Through the interaction with corporate volunteers, they are spreading awareness to encourage and highlight worth and potential of people with disability.

Running on an expense budget of Rs. 55-60 Lakh annually, Diya needs all the support it can receive to employ differently-abled individuals on a larger-scale, truly a cause worth supporting.

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