“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”– Albert Einstein
A visit to J.T Sheth Mandbuddhi Vikas Kendra, a part of A.K Munshi Yojana reaffirmed my belief in miracles. Located in the bylanes of Girgaon in Mumbai, the school is divided into two distinctive centres. The first is an elementary education centre for intellectually challenged children from 6 to 18 years and the other is a vocational training centre for the developmental and social integration of children and adults who are physically and mentally challenged.
I first met 11 year old Sonia in the school. Sonia is beautiful and greets you with the most enchanting smile ever. Her teacher says she is autistic, faces difficulties in following instructions and general communication. During the time I spent with her, none of that seemed to matter. I was in awe of Sonia, the way she gently said namaste, the way she arranged her building blocks and the sincerity with which she tried to have a simple conversation with me. Sonia’s teacher proudly stated her achievements. Sonia is much calmer now in school; she can sit in one place and do her work and can clearly indicate her preferences.
Pride is the underlying emotion among all the teachers in the school. They share a beautiful relationship with their students – as their anchors and mentors. Ask Lata Patel to talk about her student Jai and she can’t stop gushing. A child with Down’s syndrome, 6 year old Jai is a rock star. He sure dances like one. Jai is a very hard working and meticulous child. He likes achieving a level of perfection in his tasks and keeps trying until his mission is accomplished.
The second floor of the school houses the vocational training centre that is supported by Concern India Foundation and caters to students above 18 years of age who might not have completed their education. Ms. Neetu Parekh, the head of the vocational training centre says, “The intention of this programme is to mainstream the students. We do not want them to feel inferior in comparison to normal children and treat them as equals at all times.” At the vocational centre, the students are involved in various tasks like weaving, screen printing, beading, packaging, stitching and so on. Work is therapeutic for all the trainees at the centre. Ms. Parekh says we hold the students to extremely high expectations and expect nothing less than perfect for the final product. All students are trained according to their capacity.
Having recently come back from a trip to Aurangabad the members were rather gung-ho as they went about their routine activities. It is difficult to imagine a group of intellectually challenged students going on a trip like children in ‘normal’ schools do, but the teachers vouch for the fact that their students end up having double the amount of fun in such camps. They posed for pictures, went sightseeing, danced by the camp fire and generally had a good time.
The atmosphere in the weaving rooms is no less than a carnival. After intensive training, the students have mastered the loom and other components involved in the weaving process. Breaks from work are characterised by singing, dancing and chit chat. The students know all the latest Bollywood songs and insist on singing to entertain visitors. 27- year- old Ashfaq is known as the Kishore Kumar of the school. Along with suffering from intellectual disability, Ashfaq had a very low self esteem when he was admitted to the centre. With exposure to dance, drama and music, Ashfaq gradually started singing. Having performed and won prizes at several singing competitions, Ashfaq has gained in confidence and is immensely popular in school and his neighbourhood.
The principal, Ajit Changan, feels it is important to create employment opportunities for the intellectually disabled. “They have to be independent at some point- with proper training and guidance they can work and earn money. This results in boosting their self respect and easing their family’s financial burden to some extent. The products made by the vocational training centre are sold at corporate exhibitions, NGO mela’s and so on,” he says.
“Know me for my abilities, not my disability.” is a quote by Robert Hensel I had read a while back. Today I know the students at the A.K. Munshi Yojana School only for their abilities. They are so talented, yet so humble. They have an inherent magical quality in them, one which takes away all your worries and makes you grateful for the simple joys of life.
by Sagarika Mohanty, Communications Team, Concern India Foundation
Photo Credit: Concern India Foundation Photo Library
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