Specially-enabled children, nurtured with tender loving care, tended to exclusively by women
While some of us are busy achieving our lives’ ambitions and living the good life, some others dedicate theirs’ to the cause of helping others realise their ambitions and better their lot. The Home for the Handicapped, of the Guild of Service, is one such place that gives its inmates, children with special needs from the economically weaker sections of the society, hopes and dreams and wings to fly. In the early days, many young children were severely disabled being afflicted with polio. Thirty years later, owing to the Govt.’s successful polio eradication drive, there are no longer children with disabilities as in the past. The home for the handicapped now takes on children with cerebral palsy, dwarfism or congenital issues. The Home has been providing physiotherapy, intervening surgically where needed, providing prosthetics and primary school education to its little residents.
At the heart of this narrative, however, is how this little place helps its little inmates find love and joy in a situation that otherwise could be darkly depressing, with children seeing their own batch mates pass away for one apart from the various illnesses each is being tended to. Many of its alumni have been successfully integrated into the mainstream societal fabric, are economically independent, with families and offspring of their own and in turn sponsor and donate back to the Home. Although the Home was initially only meant to provide residential facilities for its own school of primary children, it now continues to be a true home for adolescents and adults alike who stay on here while studying in high school or even coming back for obligatory rituals traditionally carried out by one’s own family like a baby shower for an expecting mother. In addition, the Home helps empower young ladies with disabilities by providing them a residence while they undergo vocational training and placing them in Govt. institutions.
Making it possible are the long serving staff of the Home. Prema aunty, as I know her is the primary care giver for all these children. Herself a Guild progeny, she tends to the children and keeps them clean, which in itself is a process that needs tender care and fragile handling. Vasanthi aunty provides physiotherapy to children, helping them walk. Stories abound of how painful the process can be and how most of the children who came crawling now walk with prosthetic limbs.
An alumni member, Radhakrishnan, from the very first batch, running his own enterprise, spoke of how he regrets not having been committed to the physiotherapy provided owing to the pain and therefore missing out on the opportunity to walk. This made for a moving episode in the Home’s annual day where he passionately encouraged all the children to not give up even if in pain for the larger cause of being able to walk and be independent.
The outcome for the children who have been able to take up the prosthetic is enormous gratification. Vijay Sarathy, besides graduating and being a software professional is also a national level wheelchair athlete representing India in various sports meets. Mohan has won a silver medal in table tennis in the Beijing Paralympics. Manikandan, a lower limb amputee following bone cancer, currently in the 12th, dances with great skill and talent with a single leg winning several state awards for dancing and choreography. They mentor and motivate the younger ones. Manikandan choreographed the current annual day’s dance events. Vinodhini makes a graceful dancer giving professionals a run for their money, despite her dwarfism. Raji, in the 12th is an all-rounder with no upper limbs and aspires to be a Chartered Accountant scoring high marks in his boards.
Triumph here unfortunately also jostles with trauma. Prema aunty witnessed the passing of Malini in her arms, who collapsed wheezing while she was brushing her teeth. A loving and undemanding girl whose loss left an indelible sorrow on the children and the staff alike. Élango, an adorable 8 year old, has a condition of fluid accumulation in the brain called hydrocephalus that was rectified with surgery but led to loss of sensitivity in his nerves and incontinence and a potentially reduced life span as a consequence.
Murugalakshmi is a 12 year old with a growth smaller than a 2 year old while her internal organs continually develop putting enormous strain on her system. She however sportingly danced beautifully in the annual day but by the end of it was completely out of breath. Abdul a beautiful child, was taken away on account of conflict among the parents. Lakshmi who was an amputee with beggar parents were taken away by her parents, pavement dwellers themselves, since she earned money for the family begging. Two boys, Keerthi Varman and Mahendra Varman, from a reasonably well to do family thrown onto a moving train as babies, with the mother who gave up her life on account of a family dispute, losing their limbs in the process and ending up in a broken home with the father remarrying. The teachers continue to train the children, not giving up on any of them, thereby, giving them hope and tools for a better life.
I have wondered how much it must have cost them, the staff, to witness these tragedies and the continuing pains of these children and yet be cheerful and spreading cheer in the community. The children are always full of energy and confidence and ever cheerful. What this takes is never ending passion and conviction. I have been associated in passing with the Home for over a decade given my mother in law, Maya runs the place along with Sita aunty, who has been with the home since inception. They practice what every customer oriented organisation speak of, taking care of their staff and keeping them happy so they in turn keep their children happy.
Every occasion is an event to celebrate and exchange gifts. Sponsors abound with the relationships they have built over the years. And no one goes away not being touched and wanting to do more. My mum in law, took active interest after she lost her daughter creating a trust in her daughter’s name commencing primary schooling under the State board. She has picked up kids from the streets coercing parents making monies from children begging, into giving them better lives. She urges us to not give monies for charity and instead asks for us to spare time in volunteering in the nearest NGO and try to direct beggars to night shelters to discourage trafficking. She says “God gave me two flowers and, for reasons best known to him, took away one and in return gave me a bouquet”.
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