About Asha Niketan Kolkata
Asha Niketan is a part of the international federation – L’Arche (the Ark) founded by Dr. Jean Vanier in 1964. L’Arche and Asha Niketan seek to bring to the centre of our society the intellectually challenged persons who are usually banished behind the doors of the specially established institutions away from the societies at large. It proposes to restore the dignity of the persons with learning disability to inspire blossoming out of their hidden creative gifts and to establish their rightful place in the societies they are living in.
Asha Niketan, Kolkata (Home of Hope) was founded in 1973 almost adjacent to Sealdah Railway Station with one mentally challenged adult. Over these 41 years it has grown into two large locations at two houses in 37, Tangra Road and 24/1B, Pottery Road. There are now 15 residential core-members, 35 day workers and 21children in the Day Care Centre – all persons with learning disability. There is also a 0utreach Section consisting of 16 children. They are being attendant by 15 Assistants both residential and non residential and 7regular staff. They stay together along with the assistants like a family, a relationship which is strong, unique and full of trust. A lot of love and respect exist among all of them.
In the community those residential members who are above 18 years are given vocational training, they are taught how to work in a group and how to co-operate with others. The members below 18 years are sent to a special school. Asha Niketan Kolkata is the home for these 15 residential members. They stay together along with the Assistants like a family, a relationship which is strong, unique and full of trust. A lot of love and respect exist among all of them. The residential members, when they first come to the community, found it very hard to adjust to the new environment, but eventually through love and understanding they become accustomed to the life here at Asha Niketan. Asha Niketan helps to develop the unique qualities of these disabled members. Each of these qualities helps them to live a life of dignity.
The community life consists of all its members working, praying, eating, celebrating and growing together in the spirit of common humanity rooted in prayer and trust in God. Togetherness, welcome, prayer and celebration are very much in the mainstream of our community movement and our communities are built-up by these life-giving value-elements. The community provides its members a home and a family rooted into ‘Brotherhood of Man’ under ‘Fatherhood of God’. We, human beings, are all children of one and the same Father, God who has created us in His own image and likeness. Through this spiritual brotherhood we enter into a deep relationship with our fellow members and God. Relationship carries a great importance and value in community life. Through cordial relation and loving behaviour we experience unity among ourselves and feel like being one Body with one Heart and one Soul. We give life and receive life from one another and grow together in the Love of God. Asha Niketan is indeed a ‘Work of God’ not ours. We are only his servants to serve the cause of the poor/handicapped people. We feel fortunate to have been called by God for this noble cause.
In our workshops we have different sections producing candles, cards, paper bags, Tie and Dye, and batiks etc. The products produced by so-called handicapped people reveal how gifted they are. They find and show great interest in work and fondness to make beautiful things. Apart from producing the products they love to work together and give love and life to us in working together.
Sharing our lives with them we discover that, though they are mentally disabled, they are very rich in heart. With this in mind they may rightly be called “People with special abilities” rather than “People with disabilities”. By experiencing the richness of their unconditionally loving hearts something happens in our hearts and we begin and continue to become aware of our own handicaps. Looking at ourselves as a creation of God in His own image we begin to see how spiritually handicapped we are. And how spiritually gifted they are, always giving us love and joy without asking for anything in return. Their vulnerability touches our heart very deeply and their life puts before us a living example of what complete trust and reliance means. By the way of their full trust in us God calls us to deepen our trust in Him.
Asha Niketan is primarily a spiritual movement where people of different faiths and religions are welcomed and each member is provided with necessary help and proper guidance to discover and deepen his/her spiritual life in his/her own faith and tradition. All our activities begin with prayer. Meetings, work in the workshops, celebrations and the likes. In our homes there is a daily Prayer time of half-an-hour in the morning and in the evening. Before starting work in the workshop 15 minutes meditation is practised by all. We see core-members at the core of Asha Niketan and God in the face of the core-members
As taught by our great Founder Jean Vanier, we, in the community, seek to be guided by God and by our weakest members through whom God’s presence is revealed. So in serving, giving love to, and sharing our lives with the poor/handicapped people we serve and practice the presence of God and strive to commune with Him. As such the community life becomes a Sadhana for its members. This Sadhana provides us a path to God consisting of, besides daily prayer and meditation, opportunity of selfless service to God in Form of Man. This selfless life of serving the poor and, at the same time, being rooted in prayer and trust in God may be very well understood in the concept of Daridranarayana (God in form of the poorest people) and the teaching of Karma Yoga as taught in the Scriptures. The idea of Karma Yoga i. e. ‘working for God and for humanity’s sake’ finds a full expression in the life lived out in the Asha Niketan communities.