History of Snehabhavan

History of Snehabhavan


Snehabhavan, a registered NGO established in 1990 in Kumaranallor, Kottayam, is dedicated to empowering and supporting individuals with physical and mental disabilities and their families. With a rich history spanning over thirty-three years, Snehabhavan has become a credible and resourceful organization, striving to improve the lives of people with disabilities. This document recounts the challenges faced by people with disabilities and their families and highlights the transformative impact of Snehabhavan in raising awareness about their struggles.

The Birth of Snehabhavan:

Rev. Fr. Joseph
Kannampuzha SJ

Snehabhavan-Kottayam (Home of Love) is a non-profit registered society, under the Society’s Registration Act 1955 (Reg.no.K221/90) established in 1990 by a team of committed individuals under the leadership of late Rev. Fr. Joseph Kannampuzha SJ and colleagues to work with persons with disabilities. Fr Joseph and his associates were very much concerned about the struggles and hardships of the marginalized and resource poor sections of our society, particularly the persons with disabilities and their families.

In its early stages, the society focused on three key aspects: creating income-generating projects for financial stability, providing training for the physically challenged, and promoting societal acceptance and understanding. Fr. Kannampuzha and his colleagues began by visiting families, offering financial assistance, and counseling. They collaborated with the government and other NGOs to explore ways to improve the quality of life for disabled individuals. Recognizing the need to empower women within families to better care for the disabled, Snehabhavan initiated tailoring training programs. The society also provided training in electronics repair, carpentry, and bookbinding for men, enabling them to earn a living and find hope despite their limitations. Additional initiatives included the establishment of a credit union for women in 1996 and the introduction of training programs in computer applications, secretarial courses, home nursing, animal husbandry, and aluminum fabrication in 1997 to create job opportunities.

Snehabhavan in Hired Houses:

Initially, the society conducted its training programs in rented houses. The work commenced at two centers: Santhinilayam in Kumaranallur (a Jesuit Residence) and another near Medical College Kottayam. Sr. Dolorous, a Medical Mission Sister, and Sr. Asha, a counselor, played key roles in these centers. Additionally, Fr. Kannampuzha enlisted the help of the sisters of Salvatorium and arranged for individuals to receive social work training at Rajagiri College of Social Work in Kalamsery. With support from Skills Bangalore and local agencies, the training programs began to take shape. In 1993, Fr. Kannampuzha established Kaaruna Mahila Samajam (KMS) to uplift women's welfare, organizing camps and awareness programs to empower them. Generous contributions from the Kannampuzha family and other benefactors provided the necessary financial backing during this period.

Snehabhavan Moves to Own Premises

In 1993, Snehabhavan achieved a remarkable milestone as the Society made a momentous decision to purchase an 86-cent plot of land from the Vallaparambil family in Gandhi Nagar. This marked the beginning of Snehabhavan's ownership of a property, a significant step forward. To lay the foundation for the special school, which had long been a cherished dream of Fr. Joseph Kannampuzha, a thatched shed was constructed on the acquired land. In the same year, the school proudly opened its doors, welcoming six mentally disabled children, a special teacher, and an assistant.

During this period, several noteworthy developments took place. In 1993, an office building and a training center were inaugurated with the gracious presence of the late Bishop Peter Thuruthikonam of the Vijayapuram Diocese. The construction of the office building was made possible through financial assistance from Manos Unidas in Spain, demonstrating their support for Snehabhavan's endeavors. The following year, thanks to the support of SLF in the Netherlands, a classroom was built specifically to provide training for mentally challenged children. SLF has remained a steadfast supporter of Snehabhavan, continuing to provide assistance for students below the age of 25. Additionally, the Kerala Jesuit Society played a crucial role in Snehabhavan's growth by providing financial support from FACSI to construct additional buildings with enhanced facilities on the compound in both 2000 and 2008.

Snehabhavan's Special School, spearheaded by Fr. Joseph Kannampuzha, was an innovative and groundbreaking initiative. Its primary aim was to provide education to students who, due to physical and mental disabilities, were unable to attend regular schools. The school's humble beginnings can be traced back to May 1993 near the Medical College in Kottayam, where it started with eight students and a special teacher in a thatched house. As the demand for its services grew, the school underwent a remarkable transformation, transitioning to a purpose-built office and school building in Gandhinagar.

Over the years, the special school expanded its services and facilities. In the 1992-1993 period, Manos Unidas from Spain made a substantial financial contribution enabling Snehabhavan to acquire land, a vehicle, and construct a spacious building. These additions equipped the organization to operate a regular special school since 1994.

By 1996, transportation arrangements were made for 20 children, ensuring their safe commute to and from school. The school bus was acquired with the assistance of a loan, which was graciously repaid by the Old Boys Association Loyola Trivandrum as a generous gift. As the number of students increased, the school continuously improved its infrastructure and teaching processes. By 1997, the school boasted 26 students, three teachers, a physiotherapist, two social workers, and a project officer. Today, Snehabhavan's special school accommodates 73 students and employs 12 teachers, representing significant growth in its capacity.

The special school not only provided academic training in the morning but also offered occupational training in the afternoon. Students engaged in a wide range of activities, including paper cover making, candle making, vegetable gardening, tailoring, book binding, and other small-scale work. Additionally, they received dance and music training, fostering their holistic development.

Snehabhavan's relentless dedication and commitment to empowering individuals with disabilities have brought about transformative changes in the lives of countless individuals and their families. By providing education, vocational training, and a nurturing environment, Snehabhavan continues to champion inclusivity and pave the way for a brighter future.

Community-Based Rehabilitation (CBR) Program: Empowering Lives and Fostering Inclusion

Snehabhavan's impact transcended its special school, as its vision extended to creating a more inclusive society. From 1990 to 2000, Snehabhavan primarily focused on operating a special school for mentally challenged students and a few homebound rehabilitation programs. However, a significant paradigm shift occurred in 2000 when Snehabhavan embarked on a collaborative journey with the CBR Forum in Bangalore, initiating the groundbreaking Community-Based Rehabilitation (CBR) project in five Grama Panchayats within Kottayam District.

This pioneering initiative aimed to raise awareness and promote the inclusion and care of individuals with disabilities. The school facilitated neighborhood visits, conducted regular meetings with parents through the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA), organized medical checkups, provided counseling, and held orientation programs for parents, teachers, animators, and neighboring families.

The overarching goals of the CBR project were as follows: a. Preventing the segregation of persons with disabilities from their communities. b. Strengthening and facilitating natural integration. c. Improving the quality of life for persons with disabilities through appropriate interventions. d. Assisting them in overcoming their disabilities. e. Creating awareness about disabilities and the available rehabilitation facilities. f. Working towards disability prevention through public awareness programs.

The project embraced a participatory methodology, involving briefing the Panchayat members and authorities about the CBR project and seeking their cooperation in implementing the project plan. A comprehensive survey was conducted to identify mentally and physically challenged individuals in the selected Grama Panchayats, leading to the identification of 883 individuals in need of support.

Snehabhavan, through its dedicated team, visited these individuals and their neighbors, raising awareness and providing counseling to promote self-acceptance and community acceptance. Over the years, the CBR project expanded its reach, encompassing additional Grama Panchayats, forming local committees, and conducting area and focus meetings to foster care for the disabled.

The project extended its services to include physiotherapy, speech therapy, financial aid, and the provision of identity cards for the disabled. It also facilitated the formation of self-help groups (SHGs) and a Federation of the Challenged Persons, empowering individuals to advocate for themselves and enhance their living conditions.

The CBR project received support from local NGOs and government institutions through networking programs. It played a vital role in building the confidence and self-respect of challenged individuals, providing economic independence through small investments by SHGs, and raising awareness about their rights and available facilities. This resulted in their successful integration into mainstream society, increased community recognition and support, and received acknowledgment as a valuable resource by government agencies.

To sustain and expand its activities, Snehabhavan received generous contributions from various funding agencies. Stichting Lilian from the Netherlands (SLF) played a pivotal role, providing assistance for the welfare of physically challenged children for over 24 years. SLF's support included training, medical aid, and other facilities to improve their lives. Other funding agencies, such as the Social Welfare Board, IGSS from Germany, and CORDAD from the Netherlands, also supported Snehabhavan's endeavors. These contributions helped establish vocational training centers, sustain staff salaries, and conduct awareness classes in nearby villages. Additionally, the society received financial aid from the Facsi accounts of the Society of Jesus, Germany's Herz Jesu parish, and generous individuals like Young Lee from Japan.

Snehabhavan's remarkable achievements were celebrated through various events that emphasized love, concern, and religious harmony. Festivals such as Onam and Christmas were joyously observed, while Independence Day and Gandhi Jayanti were marked with solidarity and a sense of community. Snehabhavan's transformative journey exemplifies its exceptional ability to mobilize support and create awareness about the needs of individuals with disabilities, positively impacting the lives of hundreds of students by providing them with education, vocational training, and a profound sense of belonging within society.

Empowering Lives through Self-Help Groups

In the year 2000, Snehabhavan took a significant step forward by initiating Self-Help Groups (SHGs) in 10 Panchayats, empowering physically challenged individuals to earn their livelihoods. These self-help groups are a vibrant community, driven by a common goal, operating based on rules and regulations to find practical solutions to their problems and needs, promoting self-reliance in their lives. The purpose was to help them realize their capabilities in various forms and to teach society that they are integral members of the community. By 2002-2003, Snehabhavan successfully established 21 such SHG units. These SHGs focused primarily on women, recognizing the importance of their social and financial upliftment. The aim was to uplift women by encouraging them to showcase their remarkable abilities.

One notable milestone in Snehabhavan's history was the amalgamation of the SHGs with the Kudumbashree project of the Kerala Government in 2002. This transition resulted in Snehabhavan no longer directly overseeing the SHG process. The groups engaged in various self-employment schemes, including candle making, umbrella making, and computer training programs tailored for physically challenged individuals. Through these initiatives, individuals gained newfound skills, independence, and financial stability.

Snehabhavan's unwavering commitment to empowerment and fostering inclusion continues to uplift the lives of individuals with disabilities. With each candle crafted and each step towards self-reliance taken, the organization paves the way for a brighter, more inclusive future, where everyone can thrive and contribute their unique talents to society.

Rehabilitation Process: Empowering Lives through Vocational Training

In 2010, Snehabhavan embarked on a new chapter in its journey by launching a vocational training center as an extension of the special school. This center aimed to provide physically challenged individuals who had completed their training with the means to earn a living and stand on their own feet. To accommodate these students, Snehabhavan purchased land in Ayamanam and inaugurated the vocational training center in 2010, thanks to the generous contributions from organizations such as SLF Netherlands and Feed and Shelter Malayattur.

The establishment of this vocational training center marked a significant milestone in Snehabhavan's mission, supporting the rehabilitation process and creating a dedicated space for students to work and live. The center was blessed by Reverend Father George Koodathil, the then vicar of St. Mary's Church, Kudamalloor in 2010.

Undoubtedly, Snehabhavan's multifaceted endeavors, including the establishment of Self-Help Groups (SHGs), the implementation of the Community-Based Rehabilitation (CBR) project, and the establishment of the vocational training center, have had a profound and positive impact on the lives of physically challenged individuals. Through these initiatives, Snehabhavan has empowered them, facilitated their integration into society, and fostered their self-sufficiency.

Snehabhavan and the Kerala Jesuit Society: A Collaborative Journey

Fr. Sebastian
Thengumpally SJ

The history of Snehabhavan is closely intertwined with the role played by the Kerala Jesuit Society. It all began with the inspiration and guidance of Fr. Joseph Kannampuzha SJ, who obtained permission to embark on this noble endeavor. After Fr. Kannampuzha's passing away in 2002, Fr. Sebastian Thengumpally SJ assumed the directorship and continued the mission with the same spirit. Fr. Kannampuzha served as the driving force behind the establishment of Snehabhavan, and later Fr. Sebastian has carried on his legacy, expanding the organization's reach. Although Snehabhavan is not directly under the ministry of the province, the Jesuits in the province have provided unwavering support by offering financial assistance and personnel. In 1996, the Society approached the Jesuit Society for support and guidance, and their response was resoundingly positive. In 2011, while not officially designated as a Jesuit ministry, the province took the initiative to evaluate the work of Snehabhavan and establish definitive terms and conditions in relation to the Jesuit province. The evaluation report acknowledged that the ministry did not fall under the Jesuits' purview but emphasized that the Jesuit society would continue to offer support and guidance as needed.

Snehabhavan and Women: Empowering a Vulnerable Segment

An outstanding aspect of Snehabhavan's history is its special focus on women, recognizing them as a vulnerable segment of society. The organization has undertaken various measures to empower women and improve their lives. Right from the beginning, women were provided training in tailoring and offered vocational and money-saving schemes. The establishment of the Self-Help Groups (SHG) was primarily intended for women. In 1993, Snehabhavan furthered its commitment to women's welfare by establishing Kaaruna Mahila Samajam (KMS), a dedicated organization. Under the umbrella of the Community-Based Rehabilitation (CBR) project, Rachana Mahila Kripa (RMK) was initiated to support women.

Initially, women were enrolled in secretarial courses and other training programs aimed at enhancing their earning potential and livelihoods.

Through its inclusive efforts and focused attention on women, Snehabhavan has been instrumental in transforming lives, empowering individuals, and creating opportunities for women to thrive and contribute to their communities.

Snehabhavan and Neighborhood Culture: Transforming Lives with Compassion

Fr. Philip Thayil

Snehabhavan has played an indispensable role in reshaping the cultural perception of individuals with mental and physical challenges. In the past, these individuals were often neglected, and families facing such circumstances endured the harsh realities of poverty. However, Snehabhavan's intervention has brought about a remarkable shift in attitudes. Communities have embraced a spirit of compassion, extending a helping hand to those with challenges, and individuals who face obstacles now feel accepted and valued. Ever since Snehabhavan took on the responsibility of caring for people with disabilities, the public has had an opportunity to demonstrate unwavering support, showcasing genuine concern for these individuals. The broader society now considers them integral members without any form of discrimination. Families with disabled children receive special attention and support from their neighbors. Moreover, Snehabhavan has successfully fostered an environment of religious harmony, uniting people from diverse backgrounds.

The rich history of Snehabhavan stands as a testament to the unwavering commitment and dedication of countless individuals who have been part of this transformative movement. The roles played by remarkable figures such as Fr. Joseph Kannampuzha and Fr. Sebastian Thengumpally are particularly noteworthy. Alongside them, other individuals who have contributed in their own unique ways have also made significant strides forward. Remarkable individuals like Fr. Philip Thayil and Ms. Ancy, who have served as the principal of the special school for the past 25 years, are instrumental in advancing this noble mission. The history of Snehabhavan is a profound narrative of love, unwavering commitment, and wholehearted dedication to improving the lives of those who have been neglected and marginalized. It is a testament to the upliftment of numerous individuals who, in the absence of Snehabhavan's intervention, could have been forgotten amidst their pain and suffering.

Through the collective efforts of Snehabhavan and its compassionate individuals, lives have been transformed, perceptions have been changed, and a brighter, more inclusive future has been paved for those facing challenges.

Major mile stones of Snehabhavan -Kottayam