The origins of the BUDS School idea could be traced back to the family surveys that the Neighbourhood Groups (NHGs) conducted for identifying destitute families during 2000-2001. The survey was part of preparations for Ashraya, the Destitute Identification and Rehabilitation Project initiated by Kudumbashree. The State government had entrusted the responsibility of Anti-Poverty Sub Plan to Kudumbashree Community Development Societies (CDS) during the Ninth Plan period. This decision led to a more active participation of Kudumbashree members and their NHGs in the local level planning process.
Disability was not included as a theme for inquiry in the questionnaire for the family survey. The women who did the survey used to note down several other information in the questionnaire along with the responses to the questions. As a survey done by poor women on the poor, due to empathy or insights on the subject that they were trying to understand, many of the surveyors wrote about the presence of people with disabilities.
The discussions that followed the survey in some places led to the understanding of a particularly vulnerable risk category: families of members with disabilities. Families of members with intellectual disabilities were identified as the most vulnerable. Several instances of pathetic human conditions relating to this was reported. There were people with mental disabilities locked up in rooms; such persons were considered a bad omen in the neighbourhood. A woman surveyor reported that families in such cases were never invited for auspicious ceremonies; if unavoidable, they would be informed with the caveat that they were not expected at the venue. Even family members of people with mental disabilities were considered inauspicious.
The survey showed that a total of 2.8% of the families in Kerala State had persons with disabilities rated above 40%; there were another 3% of the families that had persons with 10-40% disabilities. Around 0.5% of the families in Kerala had persons with mental disabilities. This meant that 60-100 families have got at least one mentally challenged person per Grama Panchayat on an average. Of these, around 35 families would have persons of age up to 18 years; others had persons above 18 years of age.
It was in this context that the initial thoughts on some form of institutional mechanism to support the families of people with intellectual disabilities emerged. The idea was not clear to anyone at that stage though. Grama Panchayats thought of day care centres, may be like balavadis or anganwadis. Some parents thought the persons could be treated at the centre through medication and cured.
The first Grama Panchayats to firm up the idea on day care centres for intellectually challenged were Venganur in Thiruvananthapuram and Mangattidam in Kannur. These initiatives depended on the voluntary service of a few women in the locality who came up with the willingness to work for such centres. What Grama Panchayats could pay them was a mere Rs 1500 for three months a year, allowed to be spent from Plan Funds.
The idea caught the imagination of a few more Grama Panchayats including Thanneermukkom in Alappuzha, Panmana in Kollam, Kavilumpara and Feroke in Kozhikkode, Choornikkara in Ernakulam, and Cherukavu in Malappuram. Of these, only Venganur and Mangattidam could proceed; others failed to move ahead for various reasons. For one, it was not a priority subject for many people; affected families were a few in number and their voices did not come up in the Grama Sabhas. The initiative could not bear fruits in spite of Kudumbashree Mission allotting Rs 50,000 as support to ten Grama Panchayats for creating models.
In 2006, Kudumbashree Mission announced a support of Rs 1 lakh each to five Grama Panchayats and Rs 2 lakh to Venganur as a special assistance for setting up centres. By the end of 2007, only four centres came up. Overall performance was not at all impressive; centres were started without proper direction and operational processes.
With just four day care centres set up, that too without the right approach and strategy, Kudumbashree Mission decided to devise a better strategy and establish at least ten centres in 2007. The Kudumbashree’s new endeavour was to have special schools for the mentally challenged; converting the existing four centres as well as starting at least six new ones.
At that time, as also in the past, Kerala had a large number of special schools mostly run by Christian charitable organisations; there were schools run by other religious institutions and a few secular organisations too. These schools had been doing an excellent job in creating avenues for improving the lives of the mentally challenged and their immediate relatives.
These schools had been trying to develop reading, writing, and math skills among the mentally challenged children. Integrated Education for the Disabled (IED) scheme under Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA) had been conducting special examinations for these children, and many of the centres were using this opportunity to make mentally challenged persons attain formal educational qualifications through this system.