ATI Foundation is an organization that fills the major gaps that are lacking when it comes to respite care facilities in the GTA. As Tamils seek refuge in first world countries due to the lack of peace our home country provides, Tamils in the diaspora also aim to provide a better life for their children while also preserving our heritage on foreign land. ATI Foundation does that by providing an affordable program that can assist families who may not be able to afford the average respite care program in the GTA. Within this program, our clients are taught daily living skills while also addressing appropriate but sensitive topics that will help them be sufficient when living independently.
Waking up at 6 am every day with two hours of commute has never been a problem once I was employed at ATI Foundation. The facility radiates with positivity, love and motivation, as every individual who steps in has a drive towards making a difference in their life or another’s. As I enter my second year as an employee for ATI Foundation, I have begun to see the conclusion of the endless battle that parents have felt without access to guided support and the necessary respite care for positive mental wellbeing.
Working with differently abled individuals allows me to understand and overcome common misconceptions that persists among our South Asian community. A lot of people, especially in the Tamil community believe that those who are classified as differently abled are born to not flourish. This misconception is seen widely among the parents of the differently abled students themselves, as they openly admit that they feel like their child is not fit to live independently in the real world. Many of the parents make the children dependent on them, as many of the students have their parents accompanying them while performing tasks that could be done independently. I strongly believe that differently abled students have the capability of being independent with certain daily living tasks, whether they are verbal or not. Many nonverbal students have the capability of eating their lunches on their own and cleaning up their own messes. On the other hand, verbal students in our program are much more independent when it comes to their eating, cleaning and toileting habits. To further explain, we have many clients who have the ability to prepare and pack their own lunches or know how to perform cash transactions to purchase food or to buy groceries. A few clients even have the ability to take public transit on their own and are also employed at locations where they can perform their tasks with less instructions and at ease.
Another misconception that persists within the South Asian community is the fear that their disabled child will not have the support they need when the parents are no longer present in their life. This usually causes the parents to go under a depressive state themselves. The presence of a cultural barrier makes the parents uncomfortable to leave their child in a facility where they will not be raised in a typical Tamil family. Annai Thantha Illam are one of the few resource centres for these parents, as their long-term goal is to provide a living space for individuals who are classified as differently abled.
The two summers that I have spent at Annai Thantha Illam have allowed me to develop the knowledge I have towards interacting with individuals who are differently abled.
In the past, before the experiences I earned working with individuals with special needs, I did not know how to approach and interact with them without making it uncomfortable for the individual. Now, after a year of experience working with clients, I can confidently work with individuals with special needs on my own. With that being said, I would like to end off my article with two tips on how to approach an individual with a disability.
1. Individuals with a disability are no different than abled individuals when it comes to feelings. Always approach an individual with a smile and a hello, just like you would approach someone who does not identify with a disability.
2. Do not assume someone’s characteristic based on their disability. Always treat them with respect, just like you would with anyone else!
I would like to thank the administrative team at ATI Foundation for providing me with an employment opportunity for their organization. Being employed for a year has helped me grow as a person as I understood that every individual starts off as a mere rock in a land mine. Once polished and perfected to our liking, we all become priceless diamonds. According to negative social interactions, these children are often looked as just rocks in soil. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of the revolution in uplifting Canadian Tamils with disabilities.
Gajani Baskaranathan is a 22 year old York University student pursuing a degree in Global Health, specializing in Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. She is also an active member of the Canadian Tamil Youth Alliance, developing a mentorship program for thamils in post secondary. Gajani is also a passionate dancer, specializing in bharathanatyam and ghaana. Gajani hopes to take her love for travel with her education, and work with NGO’s across the world to eradicate poor health by reshaping issues in social determinants of health.