Racing with the Stars
Special Care Center for Slow Learners
Originally Written on April 7, 2013
(The message is the same and few changes in the school’s website can be found here http://www.universalwelfare.org/)
“Reality is in our tears and Acting in our laughter.”
The wisdom of Gujarati Poet Kavi Saif applies to the naked truth of the lives of the mentally challenged as quoted on Special Care Centre’s website: http://www.universalwelfare.org/.
On a warm spring mid-afternoon in March 2013, I was graciously welcomed with a contagious cycle of “Namaskars” by 57 giggling, sparkling children at the Special Care Center for Slow Learners also known as Universal Welfare Trust of India in Gujarat, India. Translation of “Namaskar” from Sanskrit to English is “the divine light in me honors and respects the divine light in you.”
For being within a country and part of the world holding one of the highest rates of the inexcusable female infanticide epidemic, Special Care Centre must be widely recognized for the intrinsic value placed on every single living child within its campus borders.
Each child is beautiful, productive, and indispensable in the real world created by Special Care Centre. Equal opportunities in play, in school, and in work are given to each girl and boy child regardless of their family’s income. Not one rupee is accepted from the children’s parents who generally come from low-income households.
Upon their son with Cerebral Palsy expiring at the age of 19, married couple founders Sangita Patel and Kishore Solanki set out on the mission to gain knowledge and resources for children living with Cerebral Palsy and their families.
“Not only one person started the school,” clarified Patel.
On the 25 th of September in 2005, the birth of Special Care Center welcomed the re-birth of 35 children into a “whole world that is different,” expressed Solanki. “There is no one to call the children crazy,” he upheld with poise. And it is undeniably true.
[Due to lack of knowledge, many families may not understand their children’s special needs and may have trouble accepting them. See footnote below article for more information.]
What is amusing is that Solanki too was once called “crazy” for seeking to open a school that realizes the potential of every child despite his or her normal genetic conditions. Today the home has been enlarged to include a total of 138 girls and boys from the ages of 6 to 23. 80 students live within the Special Care Centre’s borders while 58 students commute ‘up down’ (back and forth from home and school) by bus or personal vehicle. Annually children are surveyed in their homes during March and April. There is an academic staff of 22 adults to take care of the children. The school is all donation and charity run, with no government assistance (unfortunately).
Children from multiple backgrounds and different classifications are chosen: mild, moderate, severe for Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation with speech, vision, and/or physical problems; Paraplegia, Quadriplegia, and Hemiplegia; Microcephaly, a neurological condition also known as “small head” where children especially within families have a lower IQ and smaller head than children of the same age and sex.
It is profound that I found none of the children to be any different than the thousands of children I have been in contact with my whole life. These children were in fact one of the most prosperous, adept, and civilized people I have ever met. What is most significant and telling of the progress made in the Special Care Center is visible through its services provided to the children at a very early stage in their development. Solanki enlightened me that the advantage of children coming in as early as 6 years of age is that they “are 24 hours here [within Special Care Center], so inevitably development is much faster.” In two years, “they become so smart,” added Patel. The following treatments are given beginning at age 6: early intervention, occupational therapy and physiotherapy, multi-sensory environment, music, dance, cultural activities and yoga therapy.
Details of their treatments can be easily accessed on their webpage, http://universalwelfaretrust.org . Ages 6 to 9 are placed within pre-primary nursery program; ages 9-12 are in primary; ages 12-15 pre-teenagers are in secondary; ages 15-18 teenagers are in pre-vocational; ages 18-20 young adults are in vocational. The vocations include screen printing, door mat making, tailoring, Diwali candle decoration, paper bag making, and weaving. The profits from the vocations and goods produced by the children go directly into the individual savings bank account set up for the children.
On my visit, I was most taken aback by how incredibly polite, obedient, and responsible I found the children. I was impressed by the fact that I never once heard the word “No,” or witnessed signs of disrespect and displeasure from any child’s mouth/body language. What stands out about the children of Special Care Center is how smart, attuned, and independent every child is. While swinging, the children and I maturely discussed the whole process of screen printing exam papers they print for India’s national and regional schools. The children wake up at 6am and go to sleep at 9pm. Throughout the day, they take care of academic, campus, and personal hygiene duties ranging from attending classes, studying, cooking, sweeping, folding clothes, and grooming themselves and peers who need extra assistance. They receive regular times throughout the day for playing and relaxation.
Furthermore, what is usually taken for granted with children without disabilities is a concerted effort task here, including learning to walk, speak, play cricket, and socializing. That concerted effort in teaching and training makes strides in the children’s worlds. On the school’s grounds, I raced with (and lost to) 4 girls, including 22-years-young Kailash Balvantbhai Halpati (Amalsadi village) who has competed at district, state, and national levels for the 100 meters running. She will now be racing internationally as she will be flying to Australia; 17-years-young Piyush Ganesh Gamit (Valde Khusd village) and 20 years young Pritesh Revabhai Gamit (Bhud Bhunja village) will be competing in swimming and bocce ball tournaments. This is not the first time Special Care Center has produced successful competing all-star athletes. At the 2011 Athens, Greece Special Olympics 15-years-young Nayana Gamit of Katasvan-Vyara District, brought back the Gold in handball sport.
Graduates are earning their own money outside the school doing the following work: television/mobile phone repair; metal welding; screen printing paper; and sari painting as in the success story of one graduate, Pragnesh Prajapati, in particular.
Special Care Centre proves perfectly that children with guidance, love, and support are capable of unpredictable high achievement. This school brings awareness to the untapped athletic, academic, and professional potential in each and every child. Their philosophy and training illustrates how no one, not even the child, may know what the future has planted for them; a nurturing and relaxed environment is what can help each child discover his or her talents and improve the quality of life for the child and family. Thank you Special Care Center for caring for our children who are not only our future, they are indispensable in our present. For more information please visit http://www.universalwelfare.org/.
**** Footnote on the stigma of disability in Indian culture****
Working with People with Disabilities: An Indian Perspective
Priya E. Pinto, M.S., M.S.W.
Copyright © 2001
“In some villages, people with disabilities are shunned, abused, or abandoned at birth, since parents are ashamed of their disabled child, cannot envision a viable future for the child, and fear social isolation themselves. This may be due to the religious beliefs that may attribute the cause of disabilities as punishment for past deeds. Thus, disabilities are hidden from the public whenever possible. Also, in cities environmental barriers are so severe (few sidewalks, pedestrian traffic signals, curb cuts, or ramps) that most people with disabilities are simply not able to go out in public (Paterson, Boyce & Jamieson, 1999).”