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Karthigai Deepam in Trichy has a therapeutic side to it

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Karthigai Deepam, the most ancient festival of Tamils, is incomplete without the lighting of 'agal vilakku' (oil-filled clay lamps). But in Trichy, the lamps light up the lives of many special children. Tapping into the high demand for lamps during the festival, the Spastics Society of Tiruchirapalli has been using colouring of lamps as an occupational therapy for children with cerebral palsy to improve their coordination and motor skills
With the Karthigai Deepam festival just around the corner, the society which conducts rehabilitation programmes for around 130 children with cerebral palsy has chosen 30 to paint as many as 6,000 clay lamps for this season. Around 4,000 pieces of agal vilakku painted by children are ready for sale while work on the rest is underway. Each piece would be sold at `5 this year.
The initiative of roping in special children to paint agal vilakku was floated by the director of the society C Shanthakumar. "A few years back while visiting Chennai, I happened to see clay products painted by special children on display in an exhibition. As it is a simple process and requires less effort, I thought of using the same as a therapy for our children," Shanthakumar says.
Cerebral palsy is an umbrella term that defines various physical disabilities caused due to damage in the motor cortex of the brain. Children with such conditions face difficulty in speech and free body movement. The centre encourages children with cerebral palsy to paint lamps as functional and vocational training are scientifically proven to be viable options to rehabilitate children with such conditions.
"We usually commence the painting process two months ahead of Karthigai Deepam festival when children in batches would paint the raw clay lamps. Hand-eye coordination is crucial in painting the tiny lamps, and this improves their motor skills," says T S Gouri, special teacher at Spastics Society.

The usage of multiple colours creates excitement among children, encouraging them to be innovative while designing patterns, say special teachers.
"The process of painting would impart self confidence in children as they feel contended after making and marketing a product," says P Malathy, a special teacher in the society, whose child is also a participant.
Apart from agal vilakku painting, the centre also implements occupational therapy such as paper file production, packing spice products, and jute bag production to rehabilitate children suffering from cerebral palsy. Many such children who were trained at the centre, have found employment in the packaging industry and housekeeping works, while some have become entrepreneurs running petty shops and leading independent lives.
Since no medicine or surgery can correct the cerebral palsy, the special teachers insisted the parents of special children to enroll their wards in rehabilitation homes for leading an independent life through training.


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