Annai Thantha Illam which translates to “ a home provided by the mother” is a symbolic expression that is used to describe a person or a place, who openly helps the community and its members regardless of their social identity and well being. Annai Thantha Illam Foundation (ATI) is a non profit cross disability organization that assists and empowers Canadian Tamils with disabilities. This organization focuses on encouraging clients to be proud of their identities; identify their potentiality and; provide support for those who undergo intellectual and physical challenges.
Working at ATI is an experience I will never forget. It did not only provide amazing work skills but also meaningful life skills and experiences. As a social work student, I learned that it is important to have a taste in various social services settings in order to understand the needs of our community. As I spent each day at ATI, I slowly began to realize how much these clients made an impact on me. Although I had minimal knowledge and experience about persons with disabilities, I was immediately able to develop a strong connection with each client which increased my desire to work with them even more. By working with various clients, I learned to easily identify their strengths and weaknesses in order to have a clear comprehension of what they like and what they may need to work on. I also learned that each client is different and is unique on their own. Last but not least, I learned a lot about myself through the clients. This is because before coming to ATI, I initially assumed I was incapable of working with persons with disabilities due to the lack of working experience. However, after spending just one week with the clients, I realized that the work I put into helping these clients, reflected onto me. I was able to see myself through the clients and understand we are no different from each other.
Working at ATI also allowed myself to understand the complications clients and their families go through due to the lack of assistance and resources available to them. I began to look at life in a different perspective by placing myself into their shoes. I was then able to understand my privilege and how I take many things for granted. They are the good things that we take advantage of in our lives in order to fit into society’s norms. For instance, receiving an education is a privilege for able bodied people because they are accessible for all ages. However, for persons with disabilities, it is hard to find education after high school. My physical ability is also a privilege because I am able to see, speak, hear and walk. As an able bodied person, I am not viewed as “abnormal” or different because society’s ideologies normalize it. By comparing my everyday actions to the clients, it is apparent that I am able to complete everyday tasks on my own with minimal to no help.
After reflecting on my privilege, I was able to understand why many people are blind by the way society is set up and why they are left unquestioned. This is why many misconceptions are created about people with disabilities because of the lack of power and voice they obtain. People often assume and blame the individual for their disability rather than it being a biological issue. This places a burden on the individual and their family because they consistently try to prove to others that it isn't their fault.
Working at ATI is a life changing experience. Where ever I go, I am proud to call myself a worker at ATI because of the qualities I have learned from working with the clients. It really opened a new perspective of my life by understanding the struggles of clients and the struggles families goes through in order to provide them a “normal” life. ATI is a place that will always stay close to my heart.