Thursday, October 31, 2013

An inclusive parent cooperative providing jobwork to young adults with mental challenges

Working to make a difference

The Anchorage, a parent cooperative that provides jobwork for trained mentally challenged adults, is celebrating its 25th year

In a workshop housed in an office building along busy Mahalaxmi, a group of trained adults are packing and assembling itemsfor jobwork. They are all mentally challenged, in different waysand to varying degrees. 

These are people who have been schooled and vocationally trained at a special school, and are now channelling their skills productively.

This year is a very special 25th-year celebration at The Anchorage. When we heard the name, we wondered whether it was the same organisation that ran the scandal-plagued orphanage in South Mumbai. But the name is merely an unfortunate coincidence. This Anchorage is a sheltered workshop where mentally challenged adults can work and be productive, from 9.30am to 4pm every Monday to Friday.

The Anchorage was started in 1989 by a group of five parents and a special educator. Children of all the founder-members were in Sadhana School, a special school in South Mumbai. They would graduate at the age of 18, and the question uppermost for the parents was, “What next?” This concern, as well as a fear of their children’s regression, led the parents to look for viable options. So, with the help of a special educator, the idea of setting up a workshop was born. The main purpose was to provide vocational training and arrange for appropriate jobwork. Now, 25 years later, The Anchorage is a flourishing “parents’ cooperative”, providing holistic serves to 30 mentally challenged members, and is housed in its own office premises at Mahalaxmi. One of its staunch supporters is the actor Nandita Das, who attended the 25th anniversary celebrations and is involved regularly in the organisation’s activities.

It has been a long and at times arduous journey, but the motivation was strong, and the parents’ zeal unflagging. Founder trustee Swarupa Modi recalls, “Ours was the first batch. My son had Down’s Syndrome, and there were other parents. Our major concern was that after graduation you can’t just keep them at home. They had schooling and vocational training which was carefully thought out by the school.”

The members first began taking in jobwork and using each others’ homes as a work base. But as Ms Modi says, “the atmosphere at home was not like a workplace”. The solution came from a former Sadhana School staffer, whose house had a garage in which the driver slept at night. By day, this became the Anchorage’s workshop, their first official workplace.

“By now we were a registered trust and society,” recalls Ms Modi. “The seed was sown and watered, and began to grow. We had two jobs — finishing of sequences where the plastic burr was clipped off, and toothbrush packing. Now they had a workplace to go to. They had to be on time, take their lunchbox, work and come back in the evening. Five parents and all of us had to devote a day to supervise the work and lay the folding tables and chairs.”

But hurdles of all sorts cropped up -- for example, when the first woman joined the workshop, there was no proper toilet for her use. The Anchorage then moved to a room with an attached toilet, in another building. Subsequently, in 2001, the Government of Japan made a donation that was large enough, along with contributions from individual parents and other donors, for The Anchorage to move into its own premises in a reputed corporate building at E Moses Road, Mahalaxmi. A few years later a second, smaller unit was opened in Colaba, donated by a trustee’s family.

Ms Modi explains that the type of work done at The Anchorageaims to enhance the workers’ skills as well as produce goods. “A policy decision was taken to do only jobwork and not go into manufacturing,” she says. “The material we brought to the workshop was scrutinized and it was identified where over 30 per cent of the work would be done by our adults. This type of work not only enhanced their self-confidence but was therapeutic in their eye-hand coordination, and stimulating large and fine motor coordination.” She adds, “Quality control standards are stringent and we havea list of very satisfied clients, ensuring a regular monthly salaryfor all.”

The Workshop
The workshop functions Monday to Friday from 9.30am to 4pm, and the day’s schedule, besides jobwork, includes fruit and lunch breaks, physical exercise sessions and also individual training and stimulation activities. The environment at the workshop is vibrant and cheerful, and there is a strong adult-staff relationship. The workshop is clean and hygienically maintained, with colourful posters, wall hangings and paintings done by members on the walls. The workshop today has 30 adults, a staff of 10 and a volunteer strength of 15.

Receiving and successfully completing job work contracts is the core task of the workshop. It comprises getting the raw material from the supplier and returning the finished product at a pre-determined price. Making and selling of products at exhibitions and sales is the ancillary activity. The 30 members, who come in every day, neat, clean and well groomed, perceive themselves as office-going individuals. They are trained to complete industrial job work efficiently and effectively.

Contracts undertaken by the Anchorage:
  • Assembling switches and sockets
  •  Packing of crayons
  • Packing medical kits
  • Packing hotel housekeeping products like dental kits, shaving kits, shower caps and combs
  • Packing a monthly women’s magazine
  • Making paper bags
  • Making paper national flags

How can you help?
Those wishing to help The Anchorage may do so with money, time, or by arranging job contracts. Donations are exempt under section 80G of the IT Act. Like-minded parent groups may also seek help from The Anchorage to start similar services for young adults.

Phone: +91 22 2493 6346, +91 77388 60420, +91 22 22824322

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