Enabling the Disabled

Imagine restless and fidgety children sitting in one place quietly, with legs crossed and eyes closed, trying to meditate. Difficult? Now, imagine that these children are physically or mentally disabled. This is how the day begins each morning at the Jidd School – a special care set-up for physically and mentally challenged children in Thane.

Enabling the DisabledJidd in Marathi means determination, which is what everyone at the School displays. The principal Shyamshree Bhonsle is a lady whose mission in life is to serve the poor disabled children. And she is helped in her efforts by several likeminded and selfless individuals.

According to Bhonsle, "The practice of meditation has been playing a beneficial role in the rehabilitation of these disadvantaged children. It has benefited mentally handicapped subjects by improving their mental ability, also the motor co-ordination and social skills. Physically handicapped subjects too had a restoration of functional ability to some degree after practicing meditation"

Yet, mediation is just one of the unique training techniques that this special school employs. There are special teachers for music, dance, craft and physical exercises as well. There is an occupational-cum-physiotherapy trainer and a psychologist as well. One can gauge the success of the school’s effort from the way the students have responded. Twice last year, the mentally challenged children staged a dance performance in public; in Little Flower School and at Kalidas Hall – this despite the fact that these children had never attended school before.

Jidd School is a TMC undertaking, which primarily caters to the children of the lower socio-economic strata. When the then TMC commissioner Govind Swarup founded the school in 1985, it was meant only for physically impaired children. In August last year, the school opened its doors to the mentally retarded children. Less than a year and the school’s mentally retarded section now trains eighty students as against thirty-four in the physically impaired section.

A School like Jidd is unlike any other school. It serves only the poorest children and its service does not end at education. In fact for most of its mentally challenged students, education not even possible. A child who has a mental handicap generally tends to learn slowly and may also have a limited ability to learn. The presence of this disability causes great difficulty in coping with the demands of daily life. The parents and teachers of a mentally handicapped child have to cope with all of the usual problems of child rearing as well. Thus, each stage in the retarded child’s development may bring with it a new and unique set of issues. Puberty may trigger issues of sexuality and aggression. Later, adolescence brings with it issues of work and conflict between independence and dependence.

One of the biggest issues that Bhonsle and her team deals with, is the reluctance of the parents in accepting their child’s disability. Says Bhonsle, "Parents of mentally handicapped children initially do not want to face the idea that their child requires special care. They do not want to believe it. This is an extremely sensitive and difficult issue"

The School not only educates and trains the students; it also provides free food, transportation, healthcare and playing facilities. A computer room, a rehabilitation room and special garden for disabled children add to the charm of the school.

The students come from as far as Mumbra, Vitava, Kharegaon, Patlipada and Shastri Nagar and free transportation means a lot to them. Similarly, free food is a blessing for most students. "Many students are so poor that they can’t afford more than some dry, stale bread for lunch. So when the school started providing free breakfast and lunch, there was a marked increase in attendance", reveals Bhonsle.

Fortunately, quite a few compassionate citizens from the city frequently extend some form of help to the school. Many prefer to remain anonymous. Such acts of kindness coupled of the determination of some individuals epitomises the essence of life. As Aesop, an Ancient Greek moralist once said, "No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted."

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