“When I was in 12th standard, I lost my eyesight due to glaucoma,” said (full name will be better) Chezhiyan. Despite treatment at reputed eye hospitals in Tamil Nadu, Chezhiyan could not regain his eyesight. But this did not affect his studies. He got an M.Phil degree in History. “I never found it difficult. The notes were all recorded in a cassette and given to me. During examinations, the question paper would be read out loud, and I was able to write all the exams with the help of a scribe,” said Chezhiyan.
When he tried to find a job, he found all doors closed. He realized that society was not ready to accept his skills and expertise, and realized that the differently-abled were a handicapped lot. This motivated him to take up their cause. Chezhiyan set up Mercy Social Trust in 2005 at Kadaladi , his village in Tiruvannamalai district, Tamil Nadu and focused on the education of socially and economically backward children, vocational training, and support to the disabled and rural women through empowerment programs.
“Though I set up the Trust and began to work, I was not sure about the direction to take and the modalities to adopt. It was at this time I heard about CSIM’s programmes through H. Narayanan, the chairperson of CSIM’s academic council and its support to NGOs, CBOs, and other social change agents. I enrolled for the PGDSIM course at CSIM in 2006 and ever since, Mercy Trust has moved on a fast track. The lectures, seminars, workshops, field work, interaction with various people in the social sector and the internship programme have helped me to take my organization in the right direction,” said Chezhiyan.
“I have networked with many organizations like Rotary club, Lions Club, Udhavum Ullangal, and other local organizations. This enabled me to serve the people, especially women, in my home town, Kadaladi, a remote village. Till date, 200 women have completed their tailoring course and 20 women are being trained now. They can earn and work as trainers too. Besides training, women are also offered counseling. Career guidance has been given to over 1500 people. We are now planning to start a computer training centre and are looking for sponsors to provide computers, and teachers to train the rural and physically challenged women,” added Chezhiyan.
Although qualified, Chezhiyan could not get a job in a bank or in the government. He decided to fight for the rights of the disabled and began working on advocacy initiatives while studying at CSIM. He realized that though the Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission had a three per cent reservation for the disabled, it was not implemented. He filed a lawsuit against the government and won. Following the court order, the Government offered jobs to 600 physically challenged people.
“Only five to six per cent of the population is physically challenged. If three per cent get jobs, they could survive and live with dignity. Not all disabled people are aware of their rights. We need to engage the media to empower them and sensitize them about their rights,” asserted Chezhiyan.
He said, “My focus is not only for the rights of the disabled, but also of the underprivileged. I have conducted awareness programs on National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) in the neighboring villages. This helped many families enrol in the NREGA scheme and seek work for 100 days.”
Chezhiyan comes from a family of weavers. He aspires to work for the weaver community’s welfare in and around his home town. His dream is to set up a power loom near Kadaladi and employ his villagers. “I have submitted proposals to a few organizations. Some of them have rejected my proposal as they were not confident of my capabilities. But I will prove them wrong by starting my own power loom. I am sure they will come forward one day to support my dream. The power loom would be a social enterprise and I will employ the disabled, women and needy weavers in Tiruvanamalai district,” concluded Chezhiyan.
Having overcome several hurdles, and having succeeded in many ventures, Chezhiyan’s dreams are surely not going to end soon. He will not stop until he achieves his vision of improving the living standard in and around his home town.
Sponsors and donations for Mercy Social Trust are welcome. If you wish to help, contact Chezhiyan at +91 9943163345.
~Fathima Khaja Mohaideen