For my travel buddy’s (not so) last day in India, we took a drive to Munnar, an area in the mountains about 150 km away from Fort Cochin. We drove all morning through miles of tea plantations, stopping first at DARE, Development Activities in Rehabilitation, a school for children with disabilities whose parents work on the surrounding plantations.
“Teachers trained in special education focus on the children’s abilities rather than their disabilities. The kids are initially taught motor and cognitive skills and, later, basic skills for day-to-day living and elementary social skills (like shopping for vegetables).”
read more here.
They teach kids all the way up to high school age at which point they are placed in their pre-vocational program, which gives them the skills to work in an onsite fabric dying center or paper making center.
We got a tour of the small school and then stopped in at the dying center, where they use all natural pigments from local plants and tea waste to draw on and dye fabrics. We also saw the center where various paper products are made from recycled materials such as banana peels and elephant poop.
Further up the mountain we abandoned the car to take a walk through the tea bushes. We were led by a man who lived on the plantation and thus had acquired the ability to glide effortlessly up the muddy paths. The rest of us, on the other hand, had not developed these skills and so, we stumbled clumsily behind with our umbrellas and impractical footwear. As we stopped to pick the leeches off our feet, a group of women floated past us, barefoot, each balancing a load of supplies on their head. After sliding down the last hill, the trees cleared to reveal an amazing view of the valley. It was a view I had been hearing about since I arrived in Fort Cochin; land belonging to our friend Romey that is used to host campers and hikers. After some time admiring the spot and talking of future plans to return, we made the trek back to the car. On our way back we were rewarded with buckets of warm water for our muddy feet and glasses of hot chai for our chilled hands.