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No beating about the bush.
Krishnamurthy Vijayan visits a school for mentally challenged children in Aurangabad and imbibes a joyous lesson on caring and sharing
Mentally retarded, autistic, mongoloid… Okay, you and I are politically correct people, so we would never say that: we call them special children. But what do parents do when they are the chosen ones for bringing up a special child?
Hide ‘it’ away, appoint a nurse, curse fate, visit God-men or silently train themselves to teach the child to fend for itself? I have seen many different approaches to handling this gift, and I won’t judge because I don’t know how I would have handled it. But, last month, I met a group of people in Aurangabad (better known for Ajanta, Ellora and Paithani saris) who showed me another option: build a large joint family around the child.
The Swayamsiddh family is unique: a group of couples in Aurangabad, who had special children, decided to do something about it. They came together and started a school to teach, train, develop and provide therapy to each child and make it part of a large joint family of similar children; thus, forever banishing the loneliness and depression that all too often they fall prey to. Swayamsiddh allows them to enjoy life and live it to its fullest.
The school is a little way off the Walmi-Waluj Road in Aurangabad. The first thing that strikes you is how the modest two-storey structure appears to sweep jauntily into the sky like a little concrete kite festooned with colourful pictures. It was built on fees that the eminent singer Jagjit Singh donated after a Swayamsiddh concert, on property donated by Somnath Sakhare (after a chat on a flight with Harish Baijal, the mentor of this project).
The building reflects the remarkable vision of its ‘joint family’. There is a gym equipped with specially imported equipment to train children in the rigours of their daily life—balance, motor coordination and strength for basic functions. In the classrooms, teacher-parents train their children gradually, from painting between lines, to connecting dots, to making beautiful handicrafts. This therapeutic education for children with a range of challenges has achieved remarkable results. For some sales, the children are able to keep their own accounts; some have won dance competitions; for a few, even sitting up is an achievement. A boy who could not even be propped up initially responds to physiotherapy, while a little deaf-mute girl has bones too brittle even for physiotherapy and has to be handled delicately, like old parchment. Yet, the principal, who took us to this room, and the teacher-parent who entered a little later, greeted her as though she were just another baby. Was it my imagination that the child seemed to respond to their warm vibes?
That these children make eye contact, support each other and are not afraid to touch or be touched is another achievement: it is because all the adults around them give and accept hugs from them. Yes, everything is an achievement in this joint family.
How do I enumerate the imagination of these parents? They organise workshops for siblings who may feel neglected by their parents’ focus on the special child; workshops for grandparents to help them support these parents; Amitabh Bachchan, Shankar Mahadevan and Adnan Sami ‘Nites’ in remote Aurangabad; treating each other’s children as their own—the list is diverse and endless.
And that brings me to Harish Baijal, a self-effacing policeman who is currently DCP (anti-corruption) in Nashik, better known to us as the man who launched a crusade against drunk-driving. Through his efforts, Swayamsiddh gets some unusual sponsors. That’s what he does—instead of using his contacts and his chair for furthering his career, he has decided to use it for furthering the cause of this remarkable group of people. So, if you get an SMS from a policeman, don’t tremble; call back and join the family.
Vivek Singh Special School
C/o Dr Vandana Mehta,
Gut No.76, Walmi–Waluj Link Road,
Waladgaon, Aurangabad 431136
Tel: +91 240 2040027
Email: [email protected]
A private citizen’s effort to preserve India’s rich but crumbling heritage
Crumbling vintage mansions, ill-maintained forts and ruined temples are sights that all of us encounter from time to time. A closer examination, however, reveals vestiges of artistry and stateliness that are hidden by the subsequent lack of care. We tut-tut and go our way thinking somebody ought to do something about it. Dr T Satyamurthy, formerly from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and Archaeology Department of Kerala, set up REACH Foundation at Chennai. His team of volunteers at REACH believe that each of us is the ‘somebody’ who must reclaim our heritage with pride.
It all began after Dr Satyamurthy’s retirement. He says, “Young techies in the 25-35 age group sporadically approached me, wanting to learn more about scripts they had noticed on temple walls or the history of particular edifices. I realised there was a felt need for the study of history in a modern context and the adaptation of modern technology to preserve the ancient. We owe it to the next generation not to squander our collective legacy.”
REACH’s aim is the renovation and preservation of India’s heritage of buildings which is varied yet unique to each region, influenced by and constructed to suit local conditions. Only a fraction of it is preserved; much of it is dilapidated and requires urgent attention.
Many heritage buildings are in villages whose populations are alarmingly ignorant and alienated from their surroundings. The modern Indian educational curriculum also lays emphasis on career development courses rather than on culture-development that fosters heightened awareness of the society we live in.
REACH wants to stem this rot and increase heritage awareness. To begin with, REACH focused on Tamil Nadu’s 70,000 to 80,000 temples of which around 30% are ancient. Its diverse and well-qualified team comprises epigraphists, history enthusiasts, restorers, lime & mortar experts, ASI-trained workers and scholars in disciplines like mathematics, geology, temple architecture, painting and sculpture. The intent is to involve villagers in renovation as well as maintenance of the edifices in their vicinity. Training in preservation and restoration techniques is imparted through practical demonstrations and computerised presentations. Once the blueprints are prepared, traditional, time-proven methods and materials as in the original structure are used for renovation; not sand-blasting, cement, acrylic paints or enamels.
Since 2006, 14 temples have been cleaned and restored with budgets ranging from Rs20 lakh to Rs2 crore. Villagers contribute a proportion of the corpus in kind or labour towards asset-building for the community. The rest comes from donations. The restoration of the Kailasanathar temple at Uttaramerur, built in 742 CE, is being done in collaboration with the civil engineering department at IIT Madras. It will be completely restored and re-dedicated in April 2010.
REACH now has a team of 60 volunteers working in Karnataka and Kerala. It also offers training through the Academy of Archaeology and Sciences of Ancient India (AASAI), including regular classes on reading inscriptions in ancient Tamil.
It has conducted a symposium for Heritage Wardens and also held an international seminar on remote sensing of archaeological sites in collaboration with ASI-Chennai circle and Bharathidasan University, Tiruchirappalli. Itinerant devotees forming local Uzavarappani groups traditionally undertake temple cleaning and are co-opted into the effort after training them. Interested villagers have also trained as guides. REACH conducts heritage tours in and around Chennai and proposes to introduce audio guides to important heritage sites in Tamil Nadu. It needs volunteers to make the movement pan-Indian by taking it to varied heritage sites.
26/43 Janakiraman Street
Chennai 600 033
Email: [email protected]
Meenakshi Bhalla describes an organisation which is giving abandoned and destitute children a new life
In June 2003, Raju was only seven when he was abandoned, found by the police and brought to the Indian Association for Promotion of Adoption & Child Welfare (IAPA). He was a withdrawn child and had scabies. It was later found that he even suffered from tuberculosis. But although his parents could never be traced, life changed for him that day. IAPA placed him with an experienced foster family on its rolls even while it followed the statutory norms under the juvenile justice system. He lived with his foster family for two years, during which he was treated for his illness, taught better hygiene, enrolled in school and taught to be more social. Once he was medically fit, IAPA found him an adoptive family. He is among the few older children who have found a permanent home.
IAPA, a non-profit, voluntary organisation was started in 1970 by a group of social workers, adoptive parents and lawyers who were concerned about the fate of abandoned and destitute children based on their personal and professional experience. Over the past 40 years, it has evolved and expanded the scope of its work from promoting adoption among Indian parents to strengthening family life, health, development and education of children in difficult circumstances.
It works with children who have lost their own families permanently, those who risk a blighted future due to a family crisis, underprivileged children who need support for education and infants born out of wedlock who risk being abandoned. As with Raju, IAPA works at finding permanent homes for abandoned or orphaned children and even while they wait for adoption, it arranges for them to be cared for by foster families that provide personalised attention and nurturing of the child.
Adoption is a sensitive subject. But approaching it, regardless of who is asking the questions, with a clear and comfortable understanding of your own personal feelings facilitates the discussion. For the child, abandonment leads to the burden of feeling rejected. ‘Why did my mother leave me? Did I do something wrong? What if my adoptive parents leave me, too? Will they still love me if I get into trouble? Will my friends think less of me if they find out I was adopted?’ These questions haunt abandoned children until they feel secure and comfortable in their new environment. IAPA offers family counselling, mental-health awareness programmes and even health check-ups and child guidance programmes—all these services are aimed at ensuring stability and security for the child as well as the parent giving a child for adoption or new parents who adopt a child.
IAPA tries to spare children the trauma of separation from their own environment and being placed in an impersonal institution. It does this by finding alternative care with the child’s extended family or even with a willing neighbour. In rare cases, it even finds a temporary foster family. IAPA’s holistic approach extends to life-skill enhancement, vocational guidance and facilitating income generation through self-help groups or bachat gats. It also provides financial aid and counselling and works at tapping community resources wherever necessary. At any given time, IAPA has about 100 children and their families under active assistance.
Additionally, IAPA works at awareness building and advocacy to influence policies and raise service standards. The need for adoption is now widely recognised, so IAPA focuses on preventing the abandonment of children and ensuring the secure surrender of traumatised children. One way of doing this is through dissemination of useful information at community levels in lower socio-economic strata.
You could support IAPA’s programmes, like a child’s long- or short-term foster-family care, sponsor a child’s education or vocational training, provide medical assistance or donate/volunteer for various services.
Indian Association for
Promotion of Adoption
& Child Welfare