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Happy Valley Special Needs School

Happy Valley Special Needs School, Nedumangad, in southern Kerala.

Happy Valley is on the north side of the Aruvikara Dam in Kerala.

Philip Mathew, one of our partners in India, saw the potential for a school like Asha Kiran Ashram in Nedumangad. We already had a building there which we were using to offer counselling but it was unused for much of the week. We had learned how effective physiotherapy could be for children with disabilities and we started by using the space to treat local children. A physiotherapist was employed for three days a week. She not only treated the children but instructed the parents on programmes they could follow with them.

As at Asha Kiran Ashram, the programme proved to be a great success and so demand began to grow. Soon the centre began to offer speech therapy and acupressure – a highly regarded traditional Indian therapy. The building quickly proved inadequate for the growing number of clients, and Philip, with our friend Tom Sutherland, took out a lease on a building in Kalathara. It was larger and had a good outside space. There was a kitchen, living accommodation, and classrooms. There are now between 40 and 50 children who come most days, brought in by the centre’s two vehicles. As at Asha Kiran Ashram, they receive small group teaching and training appropriate to their abilities. For the younger ones this may be the basics of reading, writing, numeracy and English; for others it may be speech therapy. Physiotherapy helps children to build up muscle mass and develop flexibility, both of which improve mobility, and is provided both to the children of Happy Valley and also to a number of outpatients who could not otherwise afford it. For older children, vocational training in useful and marketable skills is provided, with umbrella making, candle making, kitchen skills and gardening being taught – skills that can help them make a living. The umbrellas and candles made by the trainees are sold and make a welcome contribution to the school’s finances. The success of the school can be seen in the lives of the children. Many are a lot more mobile than when they arrived. Some have been able to enter, or re-enter, mainstream education. And others have been equipped to survive in the harsh world when they leave. All have received care and attention in a loving Christian environment.

The Covid pandemic hit Kerala particularly hard and, as with Asha Kiran Ashram, the lockdown meant that children were unable to go to the school. Philip pioneered the use of mobile phones, which are ubiquitous in India, to provide remote learning, coupled with home visits. It was not an ideal situation, as the children missed out on the interaction with their peers and their parents miss out on respite care.

There are some 50 children on the books, and today just 25 came in the new bright yellow school bus. A full programme followed for the morning – assembly with prayers, promising allegiance and exercises. The children then came in, and physiotherapy, crafts and tuition in small groups followed. The children’s ability to learn is very limited, but with patience and persistence many of them are able to master the art of simple writing and reading in Malayalam (the local language) and English, along with basic numbers and arithmetic. Physiotherapy and speech therapy, conducted by skilled professionals, make all the difference to many children, and one of the benefits of having not visited for two years is that I was able to see the difference that these make, with children able to do significantly more than previously. The lead image shows Vishnu, who has very severe cerebral palsy, having physiotherapy.

More information and photographs of Happy can be found in our booklet online “God’s Special Children” (A Story of Four Schools)

Recently, Happy Valley has moved premises. For the last five years it has been based at Kalathara, a small Indian village near Nedumangad, Kerala. But the lease expired and the owner wanted the house back. Other house owners were unwilling to allow their homes to be used for the centre for various reasons. It looked like Happy Valley would be homeless.
But the director and long-time partner, Philip Mathew, is nothing if not resourceful. At the last minute he found someone – a priest with the CSI (Church of South India) with a house that he was prepared to provide. The only drawback was that he required a large deposit – about £9,000. Happy Valley had £3,000 in hand from the deposit on the previous building, but where was the other £6,000 going to come from? Answer – from an incredibly generous supporter in Australia who sent us the money, along with the costs of fees and moving. Contracts have been signed, the money has been paid, and the centre will be moving in shortly.

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