Helping Slow-learners Catch Up
Located in Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, is an institution doing pioneering work towards providing academic and vocational skills to children who are slow-learners, with delayed development parameters and specific learning disabilities. Its focus is on inclusive education. Bhavani Child Development Centre was set up by Vimala Venkatesan in July 2003 as a non-government organisation (NGO). 
 
Says Vimala, the Centre’s managing trustee-cum-director, “Our main aim is to understand how our students learn and how well they should be learning, to achieve academic goals.” Passionate about the fact that many children are not given a chance to enjoy their childhood, Vimala believes that society needs greater awareness and acceptance of children with specific learning disabilities (SLD) and of slow-learners. She works in close coordination with parents as well as educational institutions. “Otherwise, we are creating stressed childhoods on the one hand and depressed parents on the other. And this is no good for the society as a whole.” 
 
Over the years, she has found that parents need counselling more than children. Because of societal and peer pressure or sheer lack of awareness, parents perceive academic performance as the key parameter of a child’s success. Many do not have the time or the ability to diagnose the reasons for the slow or delayed learning of their child. And, at school, because of the teacher-student ratio, teachers too do not have the time to perceive and diagnose the difficulties of slow-learners. 
 
Vimala has trained at the National Institute of Public Cooperation and Child Development (NIPCCD) in setting up a guidance centre for pre-school children with SLD. She was a resource person with the Guwahati NIPCCD for teachers and anganwadi trainers. Later, she took courses at National Institute of Mental Health on children with physical and other challenges. She would set up ‘counselling centres’ in whichever city her banker husband was posted. After he retired and settled in Jaipur, she set up a ‘learning cell’ for children with SLD in a mainstream school. But being confined to one school was not enough, so she decided to set up the Centre. It is intentionally called a ‘development centre’ because “we look at the total personality development of the child—not just academic performance.” The Centre has about 60 children at any point of time and has guided over 2,000 students and helped them in academics and skills, since 2003. 
 
“It’s heartening that some of my students now work in well-known bakeries or have become hair-stylists; many have joined their father’s business as well. What more can a parent want?” says Vimala with justifiable pride. 
 
The Centre provides early intervention for children with delayed development parameters who are likely to have learning disability. As a first step, it establishes partnerships with parents and teachers to create awareness about tracking milestones in child development to identify the various types of learning disabilities. 
 
It also trains teachers on how to handle slow-learners. She says “Changes in the educational system are as crucial as the methods for assessing children. So we have developed PEPAL—a Programme to Evaluate Performance and Learning. It comprises activities tailored to review students’ knowledge in the curricular component and to assess development of cognitive and perception skills, logical thinking, mathematics, language and literacy.” This model is now being used by several schools all over India. Vimala says that her biggest satisfaction was when she found that, after she trained teachers in PEPAL, one particular school in Jaipur closed the special section for slow-learners.
 
The Centre accepts funding only for specific projects. State Bank of India, Trident Hotels and Vijay Amritraj Foundation (USA) are some of its funding partners. The Centre has FCRA registration and also 80G exemption. You can donate towards the fees of one child too; it costs Rs2,300 per month.
 

 

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    Enterprise Launched To Employ the Disabled
    When Kaushik Das gave up a thriving career as a tea executive to dedicate his life to society, he dreamt of changing the lives of disabled people, not by giving donations to charities, but by setting up an organisation where they could work to support themselves. He converted this dream into reality by setting up Atma Nirbhar-Ek Challenge (ANEK), a social enterprise, in 1996.  
     
    ANEK works to provide economic rehabilitation and empowerment to the disabled. It aims to prove that, if presented with the right opportunities and facilities, the differently-abled can become productive and contributing members of the society. 
     
    “Employment for the disabled—that is our sole aim,” says Ashok Kumar Jha, operations manager at ANEK, which is located at Guwahati (Assam). “We started with only three people back in 1996 and now we have a team of 43 members. We have are happy with this progress,” says Mr Jha. “Our aim is to have at least 100 beneficiaries. We want to support them and help them in maintaining their families. We really hope to achieve this in the near future.” 
     
    The organisation generates employment in the tea and spices industry where employees help with packaging and marketing of their in-house tea brand, ‘Nav Jeevan’. They purchase tea leaves from the Guwahati tea auction and the blending and packaging process is entirely done by ANEK employees. The tea is sold commercially and also supplied to select, socially conscious canteens and cooperative stores. The employees also make ornamental potted plants and paper shopping bags for sale.
     
    ANEK operates out of a three-storey building named ‘Paropkar’. The plot of land on which the building stands was a gift from their project coordinator. Some parts of the building are rented out to other organisations which brings valuable income for the institution. 
     
    ANEK was initially financed through generous contributions by friends and well-wishers of the founder. Over the years, it has had its ups and downs, dealing with financial constraints and other problems; but that has not been allowed to hinder its activities. 
     
    The employees are paid a salary based on their job description. They have a provident fund and are financially supported for medical treatment and are also given a free meal. ANEK’s contribution has been recognised with the National Award for the Welfare of Persons with Disabilities-2004, presented to them by the then president, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. It also received the NCPEDP-Helen Keller Award-2005—a national award for promotion of employment among the disabled. ANEK is the only organisation in the North-east, and one of the few in the country, to have won both these awards. 
     
    Even with so many accomplishments, the organisation has its fair share of challenges. Says Mr Jha, “The market itself  is our biggest challenge. We pay our beneficiaries a salary even when there is no sale of products. Only if we can sell our products can our beneficiaries be truly rewarded.” There is also a geographical disadvantage due to the lack of infrastructure facilities and development in the North-east region of the country. 
     
    Mr Jha credits GiveIndia, a payroll-giving NGO, for its support. “We must give credit to GiveIndia for their immense support. The contributions from their site have really helped us during our tough times.”  
     
    “In all honesty, we never expect help from any person or organisation, not even from the government. We just want our beneficiaries’ efforts to be repaid wholly. Atma Nirbhar will always be working for their prosperity,” he says further.
     
    Contributions to the organisation are eligible for tax exemption under Section 80G of the Income-tax Act. You can also make donations via GiveIndia.
     
    Atma Nirbhar- “Ek Challenge”
    Shop No. 120, AK Azad Rd, Gopinath Nagar, ESI Dispensary, Kalapahar, 
    Bishnu Rabha Nagar, Birubari, Guwahati, Assam 781008
    Phone: 0361 247 1668

     

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    A Balwadi for Kids of Construction Workers
    Construction sites are the largest employers of migrant workers, with approximately 11 million men and women working on projects across India. The children of these workers suffer from a lack of proper food, hygiene, sanitation, education, etc, and are left to fend for themselves in tiny shanties or at the dusty sites where their mothers work. For the past 40 years, Mumbai Mobile Crèche (MMC) has been striving to help migrant families and their children. 
     
    “MMC’s vision is for all children to have a nurturing and happy childhood and, with this vision, we have been running day-care centres for children of migrant workers for over four decades,” says Vrishali Pispati, chief executive officer of the organisation.
     
    It is one of the few NGOs that specifically supports construction labourers and has reached over 100,000 children across 270 construction sites in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Thane. 
     
    MMC’s marvellous story begins in 1969 when its founder, Meera Mahadevan, picked up and soothed a wailing baby near Rajghat, during the Gandhi Centenary celebrations, and realised that many children and infants at the construction site had nobody to look out for them. It is then that the idea of a mobile crèche was born and she was joined soon by her friend Devika Singh as co-founder.  
     
    In a matter of years, there were many helping hands; in 1972, it branched out to Mumbai and in 1980 to Pune. In September 2006, the organisation split into three separate entities—Mumbai Mobile Crèches, Mobile Crèches (Delhi) and Tara Mobile Crèches (Pune). MMC is now a Section 25 company that reaches out to 4,500 children every year.  
     
    MMC’s day-care centres cater to children from birth to 14 years. Ms Pispati emphasises, “We aim to promote ‘child-friendly sites’; where every child living on a construction site is safe, healthy and educated, and able to enjoy their childhood. The challenge is to look after children whose families come from 15 different states of the country and speak over 10 different languages.”
     
    MMC’s education programme includes a crèche, Balwadi, and an ‘after school support’. The crèche, for babies under three, concentrates on creating a safe environment; the Balwadi, for children from three to five years, tries to promote overall growth and development of the children and get them ready for school. The ‘after school support’ is for children from six to 14 and targets enrolment and retention of these children in municipal schools. 
     
    “The curriculum is planned yearly and teachers meet every other month for feedback and support. Centres follow the same standardised programme to ensure consistency and better sharing, learning and monitoring,” adds Ms Pispati.
     
    Nutrition and hygiene is a big priority at the centres with a planned daily diet for children of all age groups. They are given four meals a day, as well as calcium and vitamin supplements. There are weekly visits from doctors and MMC also organises special health camps for eye and dental check-ups to screen for common illnesses.
     
    In recent years, MMC has observed a proliferation of smaller construction sites across Mumbai, which makes it difficult to set up a full-fledged day-care centre. In August 2013, this led to creation of ‘Care on Wheels’, a mobile bus that is equipped with educational and health materials and MMC’s care-givers. 
     
    Ms Pispati says, “It is deeply ironic that the children of the very people who produce the symbols of economic development—skyscrapers, residential and commercial complexes—are denied the ability to participate in and benefit from the progress the city promises.”
     
    Donations are eligible for exemption under Section 80G of the Income-tax Act. You can also offer support by volunteering.
     
    Mumbai Mobile Crèche
    1st Floor, Abbas Building, Mereweather Road, Colaba, 
    Mumbai, Maharashtra 400001 
    Contact: 022 22020869 / 022 22020879

     

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    COMMENTS

    Silloo Marker

    2 years ago

    Mumbai Mobile Creches is doing extremely useful work by taking care of children who would otherwise be left to fend for themselves. Anyone giving time or money to such an organisation is certainly giving to a good cause.

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