Tag: Marginal Sections

A Unique Bond

A Unique Bond

raksha_bandhan.jpg 

In wake of terrorism’s spread across the globe, love is our only hope. Love is the only antidote to acts of hatred. St Francis, in his famous prayer, entreats God: "Where there is hatred, let me sow love." Last week, over two hundred students from Thane sowed the seeds of love when they celebrated Rakshabandhan in a unique way. Ninety boys and girls in need of special care bonded with more than 150 students from 12 different regular schools including DAV Public School, Holy Cross Convent, Hiranandani Foundation School, Saraswati Secondary High School, St. Lawrence High School, Little Flower High School, St. Carmel High School, and Bharat English High School.

The children were participating in the ninth annual inter-school Integration Programme at Sri Ma Snehadeep School for Mentally and Physically challenged and Visually and Hearing impaired.

There were many highlights of the programme that deserve a mention. The special children had crafted their own rakhis, which they sold to the guests (children). They also welcomed them in the traditional style with haldi, kum kum and flowers.

Later they sang Rakshabandhan songs. The special girls tied rakhis to MLC Sanjay Kelkar, who was the chief guest and Sri Balagopal, director of the Sri Ma Group of Institutions among others.

The most touching moment of the event was when girls from the special school tied rakhis to boys from regular schools and girls from regular schools tied rakhis to boys from the special school. The entire process of tying the rakhis was carried out by following the time-honoured ritual complete with kum kum, haldi, sweetmeat and Akshata (rice smeared with turmeric). Later, special children made friends with regular school children and interacted with them.

When it was turn of adults to speak, Chief Guest Kelkar appeared impressed with the special children. He said, "I like the term ‘special children’. These children are really special and, though challenged to varying degrees, are in no way to be undermined, for they have the abilities to perform and manifest their skills in various spheres of life."

Principal of Sri Ma Snehadeep, Manju Tejwani said, "I am so happy to see that you have made this function successful by attending it in such huge numbers (schools and students) despite the rains. You represent the society and it is for you to carry the message back that special children, if encouraged, can develop their skills very well. They don’t need sympathy; they only require your loving look. At least give them a pat or a smile when you pass by them. Many people don’t even look at them though they live next door. Remember, special children too have a right to respectful living."

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "Love is our highest word and the synonym of God." In a way, the children showed us a glimpse of God.

Boosting confidence

Boosting confidence

On July 25, more than 150 students, mostly from civic schools, got an opportunity to attend three lectures in a seminar organised to felicitate SSC and HSC toppers. The programme was held at the Thane Manufacturer’s Association Hall between 3 pm and 8 pm. The total strength of attendees was 240, including teachers and parents. The programme is an annual affair organised by the Rotary Club of Thane North End.

The first speaker, Dr Madhuri Pejawar, Principal of BN Bandodkar College of Science, spoke on how to select their careers. "I am not going to talk about science careers as I know many of you may not be in a position to opt for those. But you can opt for the armed forces, which is a good career option," she said.

Later, Anagha Gandhi from MIDCON, a career guidance centre, spoke on how to start small businesses and provided information on a variety of short courses such as baking, embroidery and mehndi. Gandhi even circulated a list of alternative professions available for these students.

JP Kabra, a management professional, taught the students techniques of building confidence, developing a positive attitude and facing challenges. He even narrated some inspiring stories of people who succeeded despite their humble backgrounds.

On her turn, the chief guest of the evening, well-known educationist Sunita Deodhar said, "Try and become computer literate because you will have a much better chance of procuring office jobs if you are familiar with computers. There are computer courses in Marathi too and we can help you there." For girls, Deodhar suggested nurse’s training.

For the 49 students who topped their respective schools, the felicitation that followed the seminar was a big boost to their confidence. Students from civic schools are not as privileged as many of their more well-off counterparts. Most students hail from poor families and often work and study together. For them to achieve excellence in their academics despite their background deserves recognition.

As the programme came to a close, the 150-odd children came away feeling a bit more confident of choosing their careers. And thanks to the felicitation, the toppers amongst them felt on top of the world.

Girl Power

Girl Power

All children are vulnerable. But street children or urchins are much more gullible to the struggles that life throws at them. And it’s a double whammy if these children are girls. Twenty-two such girls live in Divya Prabha (DP), a home for street children located in Vartak Nagar, Thane.

DivyaPrabha Girls

The girls are students of a TMC School at Shastri Nagar. What’s inspiring is that in spite of the lack of fortune, many of these girls do well in their academics and extra-curricular activities.

Take Sonali Suryavanshi for instance, who took shelter at the home four years ago when she was in class I. In April, she appeared for her class IV scholarship exam conducted by Maharashtra State and stunned everyone by securing 98.91 percentile at the school level. For the uninitiated, a percentile is a value on a scale of 100 that indicates the per cent of a distribution that is equal to or below it.

In simple terms, Sonali’s score was equal to or more than 98.91 per cent of all who appeared the exam. Her percentile scores are equally striking at the Taluka, district and state level where she scored 99.61, 99.94 and 99.99 respectively. Of course, she has been awarded a scholarship. According to DP sources, she’s also good in drawing and dance.

There are others too, like Anita Rathod (class IV) and Ruchi Jain (class III) who always stand first in their classes. Both participated in the national drawing competition conducted by Kala Children’s Academy. Ruchi got an A+, while Anita scored B+. Versatility has no limits. Both these girls also participated in an inter-school drama competition in which 120 TMC schools participated. Their team won the first prize.

Sister Juliet from DP says, “These girls need an opportunity to grow and be educated like other girls and boys their age. They need a proper environment for a healthy development, which we strive to provide within the constraints.” Indeed, just basic facilities like education and shelter is enough to motivate some to excel. Only goes to show that where there’s a will, excuses have no place.

The BIG Party

The BIG Party

Children love birthdays. They love the cakes, the music, and the celebration. But not all children are fortunate to have their birthdays celebrated. Take for instance the students of Jidd School, who face the double whammy of being mentally challenged as well as hailing from poor families. Their parents are mostly daily wage earners who can barely manage a hand to mouth existence. Therefore birthday celebrations of their children are a luxury they cannot afford. But children being what they are, they crave for them nevertheless.

mass birthday celebrations Shyamashree Bhonsle, principal of Jiddh School, recognised the strong desire of her students and decided to do something about it. With the help of Inner Wheel Club of Thane Hills (IWCTH), Bhonsle came up with a novel idea – to have a mass celebrations once every month to wish all students whose birthdays fall in that month. The first such occasion was on Wednesday June 28, 2006, when 21 students whose birthdays fell in April, May and June (because April and May fall in the vacation period,) was celebrated at a time.

On the morning of June 28, all the students of the school were excited and one could hear them chattering away happily as they waited eagerly for the song-singing and cake-cutting ceremonies to begin. When Bhonsle asked them to describe why the day was special, they all said in unison that it was a birthday celebration when songs would be sung, a cake would be cut and there would be the traditional aarti. They were bang on as soon afterwards the 21 birthday boys and girls were made to sit on a stool one by one while other students performed aarti. The mouth-watering, two kg butterscotch flavoured cake was then cut amidst songs and applause. One teacher even sang a Marathi birthday song. Dr Kalpana Suradkar president of IWCTH and Dr Veena Chandavarkar were among the others who cheered the birthday kids as they rejoiced.

The next celebration is due on July 25, 2006, when July born children will have a go at the cake. This monthly affair might not sound like a big deal to the rest of us. But if you were to look at the joy on the faces of the children, you hearts would swell. Like Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “We find delight in the beauty and happiness of children that makes the heart too big for the body.”

Against all odds

Against all odds

So often we hear about people who surpass our expectations and beat what appear to us as the most difficult of challenges. They serve to remind us that the human mind is capable of doing anything at all. Take the examples of Mrugank Vaidya and Vivek Venkatesh, Std X students from Thane, who have managed to surprise many with their performance in the board exams.

Two physically challenged students beat the odds

Mrugank cannot see. He lost his eyesight when he was barely two months old, while in an incubator, owing to excess of oxygen. But his lack has not prevented him from obtaining 67.33 per cent in his board exams. What’s more, he attended Sri Ma Vidyalaya, a regular school, and also took the exams with the regular students – except that he used the help of a writer.

Mrugank’s own attitude has been given a boost by his loved ones – his parents Bipin and Smita Vaidya, and his grandfather, Vasant Vaidya have stood behind him while he crossed the hurdles that came his way. Sharvari Deshpande, Sri Ma’s headmistress (primary) revealed, “Oral examinations are a part of the assessment programme in our school and Mrugank too had to take them. In his lower classes, he had to take a reading test like the other students. So we would mark the passage for his reading and his mother and grandfather would train him to read it using the Braille script. His grandfather has really been a pillar of support to him.”

Mrugank’s achievement has made his parents, grandfather and his little brother very proud of him. His father works for a securities broking house and his mother is a housewife. Mrugank is quick to point to his grandfather as his moral support, whom he fondly calls anna.

Mrugank, who is fascinated by an odd combination of cricket and the stock market, wishes to pursue a career in music. He loves classical music and has been learning the tabla for the last five years. Asked how he prepared for the exams and whether he was tense, Mrugank said, “I was not at all tense. I believe in thinking and acting positively.”

Like Mrugank, Vivek Venkatesh too has managed to take on the SSC board exam head on, by scoring 62 per cent in spite of being severely challenged. Vivek suffers from acute muscular dystrophy, a condition in which the muscles of the body get weaker and weaker and slowly stop working.

A student of Sri Ma Bal Niketan, Vivek has been forced to take to the wheelchair. So dismal is his condition that he finds it extremely difficult even to hold a pen. But his proud mother Padma reveals, “Although his physical condition is regressing and his limbs are growing weaker, he managed to write his papers by himself – without the aid of a writer. Vivek was diligent, he was regular at his studies and prepared for all the papers on his own. He mainly used to read the textbooks and used to solve papers from past years in a given time frame.”

Vivek is a resident of the Tikam Society in Kopri colony. Unfortunately, Vivek lost his father to leukemia when he was in Std VIII. He has an elder sister who has just completed her graduation in commerce. Padma is grateful to R Nirmal Jothi, the then principal of Sri Ma Bal Niketan High School and Junior College for the confidence she showed in Vivek’s abilities by allowing him to appear for SSC board exams as a private candidate through the school. Padma is all praises for Vivek’s grandmother who has been an instrumental force in motivating Vivek.

Vivek is adept at using the computer. He has a liking for chess and plays it quite often. He reads the newspapers and keeps himself abreast with current affairs. Vivek wishes to take up and aspires to become a chartered accountant when he grows up.

William Somerset Maugham has said, “It’s a very funny thing about life; if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it.” Mrugank Vaidya and Vivek Venkatesh seem to know this and are determined to get the best out of life. With such an attitude, these boys are sure to do well in every exam that life throws at them.

Triple talent

Triple talent

Rajesh Vilas Shinde is 17 years old and studies in Class VII. His father doesn’t have a permanent job and works as a daily wage earner. His mother works as a housemaid. Rajesh also has two sisters and a brother, all of who attend normal schools. According to his teachers, he is a good student and takes active interest in studies. He loves playing cricket and chess and is a good swimmer, too. Last year, he finished first in the 400-metre race at the district level. Rajesh also contributes to his family’s wages by selling newspapers during his vacations and making Ganesh idols

Sixteen-year-old Jeetendra Dinanath Yadav is also in Class VII. His father sells vada pav on a street side cart, while his mother is a housewife. He has four younger brothers who go to normal schools. Jeetendra is interested in judo, karate and cricket. Each year he actively participates in stage performances, especially dance and drama, in his school’s annual day function. Everyday after school he helps his father in his business.

Annu Rakesh Pandey is a 14-year-old girl and is in Class V. She has an elder sister and a younger brother who attend normal schools. She stays with her father, who is an auto-rickshaw driver, while her mother stays in her native place. While Annu loves playing outdoor games, she also takes care of domestic work and helps her mother in stitching clothes.

Rajesh, Jeetendra and Annu are students of Thane’s Kamalini Karnabadhir Vidyalaya, a school for the hearing impaired. But the trio have more than just their hearing disability in common. For one, they come from the lower economic strata, where existence is usually hand to mouth. For another, their disability and social background notwithstanding, they display enormous talent.

The three are extremely talented in drawing and have, on more occasions than one, surprised the peers and teachers by demonstrating an exceptional ability to create award-winning illustrations. What makes their effort special is that the school does not have a drawing teacher. So, in spite of no formal training whatsoever, the three win all the drawing competitions in which they participate.

Their school is situated at Jijamata road in Thane East and has 60-odd students suffering from hearing impairment. The school has trained teachers in routine subjects, but being run by an NGO trust, it cannot afford to appoint a drawing teacher. Moreover, they don’t get too many opportunities to demonstrate their talent.

Archana Nare, the principal of the school says, “These students can’t participate in many inter-school competitions because the parents can’t afford participation fees. So they have to remain content with competitions that are organised by various NGOs in our school.”

The purpose of this story is not to highlight the exceptional talents of three hearing impaired students, but to underline the importance of determination and self-confidence. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Some use their weaknesses to give excuses for not taking any initiatives and then blaming their misfortune for everything that goes wrong in their lives.

Others count their blessings and focus on their strengths, converting every obstacle into an opportunity to prove that success is the result of an attitude, not of luck. The triple talents of Kamalini Karnabadhir Vidyalaya focus on their strengths – the dexterity of their hands and the imaginative power of their minds. Only time will tell if they will make their mark in the world of art. But one thing is certain – if they continue to believe in themselves, their self-confidence is sure to take them places.

Dressed to Thrill

Dressed to Thrill

Judging competitions involving children is always difficult. But when the participating children are those who need special care, the judgement becomes even more challenging. Ask Suneeta Jain and Ashwini Shinde, who recently judged a fancy dress competition with 70 special children participants held at the Jiddh School in Thane on March 29, 2006. Jain, a psychologist working with Hiranandani Hospital and Shinde, a teacher, found themselves struggling to decide between the participants, all of who displayed enormous talent, their disabilities notwithstanding. In fact, judging these participants was even more difficult because the different types of challenges that each child faces. A few examples should help you understand their predicament.

Dressed to Thrill - special children particpating in fancy dress competition

One girl participant dressed up like a chicken in full white clothes complete with wings and a beak. Any guess what she was depicting? Bird flu! Then there was a child who had become a scarecrow, her hands held upwards, and her head in a black bag. Red lips were painted on her midriff and two artificial hands were stuck on her waist as she danced to the music, looking perfectly like a scarecrow. Yet another participant, Vikram, blessed the crowd as he walked on stage in his saffron attire of a pujari. Manali had become a sage who chanted mantras and performed a puja. A Shivaji Maharaj look-a-like arrived on stage in the typical darbari style. And Lord Hanuman had great fun jumping around the hall and on the stage just like the monkey-god. Each participant was a sheer delight to watch and the audience was fascinated, even as they encouraged the participants when they came on stage.

In the end, three winners had to be selected from five age groups. The prize comprised a cash component, a medal, a certificate and some gifts. But every participant received a participation gift. Two parents, who had helped their wards in dressing up, received surprise gifts for their creativity and enthusiasm. The fancy dress competition was organised with the help of the Inner Wheel Club of Thane Hills.

The special children are a treat to watch. Often, their performances leave us thinking about the determination with which they challenge their disabilities. William Shakespeare said, “Let me embrace thee, sour adversity, for wise men say it is the wisest course.” These children, challenged by nature-inflicted adversity, embrace it with open arms, teaching the rest of us a lesson or two in life. No wonder they are called special.

Transcending Challenges

Transcending Challenges

Special children have been in the news recently for their remarkable achievements. Here’s another bright feather in their caps. Since last month special children from Anand Dighe Jiddh School and St John the Baptist School for Children in Need of Special Care have been learning a sport that not many students attempt – roller skating! And what’s more, according to their trainers, these children are learning the technique of skating twice as fast as other children. The special children never fail to surprise us, do they?

Special Skating.jpg

Team Galaxy International Roller and Ice Skating Club of India, based in Mulund and with several offshoots in Thane, approached the special schools and offered free training to their students. The founders of the institute thought that because special children hardly ever get to play such sports, a free course will do a world of good to their athletic abilities. Besides, training them in skating will enable these students to participate in the Special Olympics next year.

So, from September 2005, every week, the trainers have been carrying free skates to the schools and training the special students in the art of roller-skating. When the trainers, Avadoot Tawde and Rahul Panandikar first started their training, the special children had never even seen a pair of roller skates before. But in no time, they got the hang of skating and soon wanted to try it themselves. According to Tawde, “Though it was difficult to train them initially, they learned faster.” Pandandiklar adds, “They respond to demonstration and action more than verbal explanations. Other than that, we don’t see much difference in the skills between them and other children.” There’s one important difference that is reflected in their attitude towards the sport: because special children don’t get to dabble with such sports often, they seem to value it more than others.

Unlike other children, skating is not merely an enjoyable sport for the special children, it is also a means of physical activity that improves the coordination of their body movements. According to experts, skating is beneficial to special children because it tends to balance vestibular stimuli and improves reflexes of the skater. The resultant psychological benefit is increased self-confidence, which helps them in living a more positive life.

Come December, these students will participate in the skating competition organised by Team Galaxy, which will, for the first time, have an event reserved for the special children. They will once again prove that they can transcend from their mental and physical disabilities and rise to the challenge. Perhaps these children are called ‘challenged’ because time and again they challenge every obstacle that comes in their way. And in doing so, they challenge our notion of them as disabled.

What’s Cooking?

What’s Cooking?

Don’t be surprised if your olfactory senses get stimulated by the sweet aroma of cakes and cookies the next time you pass by Siddhachal Complex. The source of the sweet smell might be the premises of the Jidd School for Special Children, where about 50 women are learning new cooking and baking recipes.

What's Cooking at Jidd School for Special Children

Since August last year, these women enthusiastically look forward to participating in the cooking workshop held every month. What’s unusual about this workshop is that it is that the participants comprise of parents of the school students and the school’s teachers. Jidd School is run by the Thane Municipal Corporation with the objective of providing education to disabled children from the underprivileged section of the society. Parents of these students are usually very poor and can hardly afford a square meal for the family. The workshop aims to hone their culinary skills and teach them skills such as baking, which they can then use to earn money. Besides, it also provides them with a respite from their monotonous, and often difficult, routines.

It was Sheila Sen Thomas, a social worker from Thane, who first put forth the idea of imparting baking skills to the parents. She even managed to get an Oven-Toaster-Griller (OTG) sponsored by a local NGO and thus the first baking class ensued. Soon not only parents and teachers, but even students began to take interest in the classes. “What started as a one-time session for parents soon became a regular workshop, thanks to the received a terrific response we received,” says Shyamashree Bhonsle, the principal of Jidd School. The parents enjoy the workshop and have been regularly attending throughout the year, reaching the school before time. Today they are taught not just baking, but also a variety of other food items such as dals and puddings. What’s more, everything they are taught can be cooked at home, using normal pressure cookers too. Cakes may take longer to cook at home, but it’s possible. Even so, parents have been told that they are free to use the school’s OTG whenever they wish.

Mark Twain once said, “Never let formal education get in the way of your learning.” At Jidd School, learning co-exists with formal education, not only for special students who receive vocational training along with formal education, but even parents and teachers, who are learning new things.

Hello Brother!

Hello Brother!

Indians place a high premium on family and relationships. For us, love for family comes before wealth and material acquisitions. Much before the world began to celebrate days honouring specific relationships like friendship day, father’s day, and mother’s day, we Indians have been celebrating days that honour the purity of relationships. Take Raksha Bandhan – a festival that reinforces the bond of love between brothers and sisters. Not only does it foster ties within the family, it also strengthens the social fabric of our society as it extends beyond blood relations and promotes love and respect between individuals not related by birth.

Bond of Love

Year after year, Thane’s schools celebrate this event in wonderful ways, implanting Indian values in children, and ensuring that not only will the tradition be kept alive, but will continue to be celebrated with fervour in the future. Among the most touching celebrations of Raksha Bandhan is organised by the Sri Ma Snehadeep School for Special Children, situated at Patlipada. On Friday August 18, students from as many as 18 city-based regular schools, including Vasant Vihar School, Saraswati (Panchpakhadi), New English School, Hiranandani Foundation School, Bharat English High School, Carmel School, and St Xavier’s School, participated in the 8th inter-school Integration Programme.

It is difficult not be moved when you watch children interacting with their less privileged counterparts. It was a moment to savour when special girls from the host school tied rakhis to normal boys from visiting schools, just like normal girls from visiting schools established bonds with boys from the host school. The rakhis used were as special as the programme because they were all made by the student of Sri Ma Snehadeep.

The excitement of the special children was palpable and was adequately reflected in the welcome speech by a special student called Aniruddh Dongarkar. Addressing the visiting students, he said, "We’re happy that you all come when we invite you in spite of our school being located so far from the city. We’re thankful to you for accepting our invitation." The speech lasted for one full minute, an achievement considering that the Aniruddh is an MR child, and evoked a huge round of applause from the audience. The chief guest, R S Gurav, who is the Assistant Charity Commissioner of Thane District, too was visibly impressed by the programme and envisaged a bright future for all the participating children and also for the schools that encourage their children towards such noble acts.

The objective of the annual programme is to create awareness about special children among normal children. Students of regular schools observe special children, talk to them, see them moving around and singing before an audience and learn about their capabilities (such as making rakhis, selling them and so on). The interaction brings the special children closer to normal kids and also serves to dispel any wrong notions, if any, about special children in the minds of normal children. Special children need love and acceptance more than anything else and the Integration Programme was therefore a truly joyous occasion for them. The Principal of Sri Ma Snehadeep, Manju Tejwani, said, "Just a smile, an acknowledgement, or a simple hello by a normal child can brighten a special child’s day. If, as a result of this programme, a normal child sheds his inhibitions towards special children and reacts positively to them, I will feel the programme has achieved its objective." In fact, the Integration Programme may evoke more than a mere smile or acknowledgement from a normal child. For, the next time one of the participating girls sees a special boy, she will remember her rakhi brother!