If you have children, you send them to school everyday, listen to their stories at the end of the day, celebrate each medal, certificate and accomplishment and make them join hobby classes and courses in order to turn them into well-rounded individuals when they grow up.
But for parents who have children with special needs, schooling is a nightmare in India and the achievements that are celebrated are not medals and certificates – they’re simple things like holding a pencil straight and speaking a sentence without stuttering.
A UN report from 2015 detailed that out of the nearly 3 million Indian children with special needs, a staggering 34% of them were not schooled, a percentage that is higher for children with intellectual disabilities. Today, the situation is not much better; most rural and government schools don’t have the capability to provide special education. And schools in cities are not always equipped to do so.
Children with special needs, especially those from the underprivileged section of the society, are often overlooked. That’s where charitable efforts by NGOs to uplift and empower them come into play. Khushboo Welfare Society in Gurgaon is one such NGO which has been working relentlessly for the past 23 years to make a difference in the lives of the differently abled.
In 1995, a group of friends and acquaintances set up a daycare center for underprivileged kids who were left unattended all day while their parents worked. “The initiative was founded by the desire to give something back to the society – to do something extra,” recalls Rakesh Jinsi, the president of Khushboo Welfare Society and one of its founding members.
They started out in a small rented room. Over time, they noticed that a lot of children with special needs were coming to them to avail of the free facilities of the center. They moved to a bigger space to accommodate more children and finally decided to focus on just the “special kids” – as Jinsi calls them. “The more special kids we took in, the more we realized that normal kids weren’t comfortable here anymore. So we just decided to focus on the special ones,” he says. The rest is history.
Khushboo Welfare Society now operates from a 0.4 acre facility in Gurgaon and caters exclusively to children with disabilities – mostly mental disabilities – and they have state of the art methodologies and a solid infrastructure in place. They take in children from both well-off and economically weak families and provide them with the same services and benefits.
Khushboo has a range of programs that are designed to empower children and young adults with special needs in numerous ways. Each child that they take on is assessed thoroughly to find out the extent of the disabilities and to ascertain if the child can be educated or whether she/he will only be able to handle basic daily tasks. There is a preschool program that focuses on children between the ages of 3 and 6. This lays the foundation for the special education that they will receive in the higher programs. Children who are capable of being educated graduate to the special education program and those who are not – mainly those with multiple disabilities – are taught and trained to be independent.
There is a special vocational training program for those over 18 years that trains them to work at a certain skill and empowers them to make a living. For those without direct access to Khushboo, the society has a community outreach program too.
Khushboo has trained therapists, doctors, counselors and consultants to come on board. Together they provide a range of services that includes physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and counseling. They have activities like yoga, dance, computers, and music to engage the children and aid their development. Their vocational training for young adults teaches them skills like cooking, catering, pottery, and other crafts to enable them to earn a livelihood later in life.
Their game plan is simple. “Each child that comes here is assessed mentally and physically and then an individualized developmental plan is drawn up for her or him,” says Jinsi. The plan includes some or all of the services and activities according to the special needs of the child.
“Counseling is an extremely important element of our plan. The child does need counseling, but the parents need counseling more. The parents receive guidance on how to handle their child and how to deal with the extra demands that having a special child entails.” In fact, one of the ideas behind Khushboo was to give relief to the parents from taking care of a special child for a few hours everyday.
“When parents are looking after a special child all day, sometimes they get irritable or impatient, which is completely natural. We aim to avoid that by sharing some of the responsibility,” Jinsi explains.
“And yes, we do charge a fee for our services. In most cases it’s nominal. We assess the family and give them a discount up to 95% depending on their financial condition. But I’ve discovered that even if the families pay a token amount, they value the services we provide more,” Jinsi answers when asked about the fee structure at Khushboo. He says that the token fee is charged so that the parents retain some dignity and feel confident enough to ask for services instead of quietly accepting whatever is doled out. “A fee – even if it’s not much – makes us morally obligated to provide quality services and a decent infrastructure. It’s reverse psychology at play here,” he explains.
They are able to raise around 30 lakhs in fees annually but their expenditure is way, way more. They make up the balance with donations and sponsorships and have regular fundraising drives to collect money for Khushboo.
Khushboo Welfare Society is a happy place. There are sounds of children reciting or singing with the occasional murmur of encouragement from a teacher or therapist. “It’s a great feeling to be able to see children who couldn’t even feed themselves turn out to be confident, talented individuals,” Jinsi says proudly. There’s Komal who has cerebral palsy who has participated in a state level dance competition for special children. There’s Harshit, 3 years old, who couldn’t sit up on his own when he came to Khushboo first, but is now walking on his own. There are many other success stories. Any little progress is an achievement at Khushboo.
If you would like to sponsor a child at Khushboo, you can do so here:
Find out more about Khushboo Welfare Society: http://www.kwsindia.org/index.php
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