India - Chennai

Population facets: 

Partner Organization:  Vidya Sagar

Location:  Chennai (formerly Madras), India

Number of Students:  2 students

Dates:  Site determines dates. Departure is typically early June and is dependent on school start date.  Anticipate first week of June 2022.

In person opportunities summer 2022: Yes

Virtual opportunities summer 2022: To be determined (see scope of work below)

Additional Information:

Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, if we are unable to deploy students in person, students will not be obligated to complete the ISSLP and may withdraw without penalty. For students wishing to continue with the ISSLP in virtual mode, ISSLP staff will work with them to be placed with a virtual international service option.

Participation Requirements:

  • Language & Proficiency Requirement:  None, but openness and desire to learn basic Tamil is important.
  • Gender Requirement:  None
  • Required Experience:  None
  • Major Requirement:  None
  • Student Minimum Age:  None
  • Special Requirements:  It is essential that students have prior experience working with people with disabilities. A strong level of comfort, familiarity, and interest with working and living with those with disabilities is most important. 
  • Other:  Students must be able to take initiative to create a work schedule and routine, and have agility, flexibility, and adaptability to unexpected events that come with living in India.  Equipping yourself with some basic Tamil before arriving is a tremendous advantage.

Special Training Required Prior to Summer Deployment:  (The following sessions and workshops will be organized and provided by the ISSLP during the spring semester. Additional training sessions may be added as needed.)

  • First Aid & CPR Training
  • Blood Borne Pathogen Training
  • Disabled Population Volunteering Training
  • Teaching at your ISSLP Site Training
  • Working with Children Workshop
  • Self Defense Session
  • Students lacking experience working with children with specials needs may be required to volunteer in a local organization that works with this population.

Site Description:  

Chennai, the fourth largest city in India, is a bustling port city on the coast of the Tamil-speaking state of Tamil Nadu but struggles with issues of human rights in the midst of economic growth.  Schools for the disabled are a relatively new phenomenon in India, and people with disabilities have only been recognized in the national census since 2001.  Vidya Sagar (VS) is a non-governmental organization located in the city that has numerous projects with the underlying commitment to inclusion.  Their understanding is that people with disabilities not only have inherent dignity but can also contribute to and participate in mainstream society.

"Vidya Sagar [is] an institution offering programs that focus on holistic development and education for children and adults with special needs; demystification of disability; empowering persons with special needs and their families with knowledge and skills, while strongly advocating on issues of inclusion." (VS website August 2010)  Vidya Sagar believes in the right to equality of opportunity, an inclusive society where differences are celebrated, and that disability is a development and a human rights issue. Their programs span from early childhood intervention to leisure programs for adults, and also include primary education, occupational and physical therapy, community outreach on behalf of those with disabilities, vocational training, and training for families.  They also seek to involve the community and local resources in the rehabilitation and awareness of people with disabilities.  In their pursuit of a holistic approach, they have separated from their roots with the Spastics Society of India, their former name, although many (taxi and rickshaw drivers) still know the organization by this old name.

Scope of Work & Responsibilities:

Notice: Scope of work may have some changes based on the needs of the partner organizations at the time of student arrival/engagement.

This site will be in person for 2022. Virtual opportunities are still being determined (see below).

This section reflects the most recent scope of work for students who deployed in the last few years to Chennai, India. This scope of work may change based on the needs of the organization at the time of student arrival and/or due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Scope of work in person:

Many opportunities exist for student involvement across Vidya Sagar’s programming.  Upon arrival, students discuss the different divisions and projects with the site supervisor, and then, based on their own personal preferences and the needs of the organization, choose the division which they would prefer to work.  

Students are especially needed to teach or assistant teach in a small class of children or young adults who have autism, cerebral palsy, or other developmental disabilities and are involved with Vidya Sagar’s annual creative drama.   Vidya Sagar is opening new Early Intervention Centres and would like to students to work with children with disabilities below the age of 10. 

Potential research opportunities exist including research on accessibility in Chennai.   Students expressing interest in research opportunities should work with ISSLP program staff over the course the spring semester and determine if an IRB is required.

Students also have the opportunity to work in the Vision Department, Occupational Therapy Department, Physiotherapy Department, and Speech and Communications Department. ISSLP 2019 taught, supported the “Autism classroom” and worked in the occupational therapy unit helping children to develop fine-motor skills.​ ISSLP 2019 taught, supported the “Autism classroom” and work in the occupational therapy unit helping children to develop fine-motor skills. ISSLP 2018 worked in the autism unit helping students to improve fine motor and English skills. Another student taught music, worked in group therapy and assisted in a vocational training classroom.  ISSLP 2017 assisted in Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy Departments and spent time in the Early Intervention Center. Past students have produced instructional materials for the Outreach Services department and assisted in the decoration of the school’s toy library. ISSLP students have planned and taught a creative movement class (dance, music, and motion) and created a new program helping children to prepare and perform presentations.  There are also very innovative technologies that VS is testing to allow non-verbal students to communicate.  In the past, ISSLP students have created programs to engage non-verbal students in multisensory entertainment that had learning content.

Students are also oriented on the Disability Legislation Unit (DLU) which works for human rights and advocacy, the Community-Based Rehabilitation Department in rural villages, and the inclusion cell which works for an inclusivity in mainstream schools and an inclusive community.  With regards to advocacy, in the past students have worked in the disability legislation unit on the issues and concerns that people with disabilities face in India.  Students have interviewed therapists, researched newspaper articles, and worked on speeches for the organization.  Students can also be active in spreading community awareness of developmental disabilities, including political protests and/or urban improvement programs.  While students have not worked in the DLU for a number of years, students wishing to be involved in this area will need to take initiative and discuss the possibilities with the site supervisor upon arrival to assess needs and potential projects.

The Education Employment Centre provides vocational skills to teens and young adults who work on small scale generating projects by recycling products and producing paper bags, greeting cards and file folders that are sold in the markets of Chennai. The weaving unit in the Education Employment Centre creates an opportunity for the adults in making products with minimum investment.

Adults with disabilities are now the biggest challenge to rehabilitation. Vidya Sagar has taken on the challenge of funding economically viable projects which will ensure livelihood and an income for adults with disabilities.

The Youth Program at Vidya Sagar addresses the needs of young adults over 18 years. This program focuses on leisure, increasing skill levels, establishing and marketing federation, and counseling.

There are many opportunities for ISSLP students to pursue their interests throughout the various projects and programming available at Vidya Sagar.

Scope of work virtual:

Possible virtual engagement for students involved teaching in areas of arts/crafts, music, and/or spoken English.

Housing & Lodging Information:

Students live in a community hostel on the third floor of the Vidya Sagar building with other staff of the school.  Breakfast, lunch, and dinners are provided by the site 7 days a week.  Vidya Sagar provides strictly vegetarian meals.  

For More Information:

Visit the official Vidya Sagar website  

Former ISSLP Participants:

*Did not deploy due to COVID-19 pandemic


Notice: Certain sites may be canceled and other sites added at any point during the selection and orientation process.
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