Challenging fate

Sishu SarothiThey named her Aparajita – the undefeated one. But it did not take long for their illusion to be dispelled. Aparajita seemed to drool a lot, her eyes seemed unfocused. There was no co-ordination in her movements. Worse, she took inordinately long to reach the normal baby milestones. While others her age began to walk and talk, Aparajita simply drooled and struggled to stand. The apple of their eye, their pride and joy, quickly turned into a painful embarrassment. They were gripped by feelings of anger, pity, shame and denial. They stopped socialising and kept Aparajita indoors. They longed to turn to someone for help. Then, a friend told them about Sky Rehab Community Development and Research Centre in Natun Sarania, run by two sisters trained in the task of looking after the needs of special children. Soon, Aparajita was regularly attending their physiotherapy sessions and mingling with others like her. Anjali and Sanjeev were counselled about the way to approach their child’s problems. For the first time since Aparajita’s condition became evident, her parents felt hope rise in their hearts.

Rekha B. Das is a young lady who has worked with Sishu Sarothi since 1995. She encouraged her sister Rina Bhattacharyya to do something special for the differently abled children. So, on the foundation day of Sishu Sarothi, Rina choreographed an Assamese poem for the children. The children recited, acted and danced with gay abandon. It was such a success that Rina was drawn to the idea of helping out her sister in this field. In order to equip herself for the task, she completed a DSE (MR) course from NERTIMH under NIMH. In the beginning Rina occupied herself in conducting television and radio programmes in which these children took an active part. One day, as she and her sister were out on a stroll, they met a mother who was struggling to help her child walk normally. They walked the woman home. The woman was desperate to enrol her child for special training.

Soon another child came for help and from June 18, 2001, special evening classes began to be held for them at the sisters’ residence. The sisters mulled over the idea of opening a special school with a curriculum geared to fulfil the wide-ranging needs of children with disabilities. Sishu Sarothi provided advice for the venture and enthusiastic parents pledged their support. Many students began to be referred from Sishu Sarothi. Sky-Rehab was registered in August 2002. It is a rehabilitation centre for the mentally disabled. Soon there was a flourishing out patient department for children who could not come on a regular basis. There was even a Respite Care Home during summer for parents who could not leave their disabled children alone at home while they were at work. The sisters waived the fees for students hailing from impoverished families. They were joined by speech therapist Surjya Ranjan Deka and physio-occupational therapist Dipak Kumar Das. The school began holding regular classes, creativity periods, counselling and physiotherapy sessions etc. Christmas, Diwali, Children’s Day were celebrated with special programmes. Children were made to feel loved and cherished. Meanwhile, the school facilitated interaction with normal children on a regular basis. Classes for normal children and children from economically backward children are held regularly. There is also a plan to open a laundry and a vegetable sale counter.

Besides physio-occupational therapy, a child is helped through speech therapy, psychological tests, medical check-up, vocational training, play, yoga, music therapy, art, painting and craft.

SKY-REHAB is a testament to the courage, initiative, resourcefulness and dedication of these two sisters who have tried to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate. In return, they have earned the support of society and the gratitude of distraught parents who have looked to them for help. The success of this unique institution is due to the encouragement of their family, including their spouses. The school has been a lifeline for children like Aparajita. She may never grow up to be a normal person. But at least the school will equip her to look after herself and live life with a measure of dignity.

By Indrani Raimedhi on Assam Tribune