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Special spaces for India’s special children[continued]

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'It's no disease, so there's no cure':

The three undertook the special educator's course at KPAMRC. When they met in 1995 to start Shristi, they had 26 years of work experience between them... and nary a penny. Sometimes it helps to be money-unwise, and clue-less about costs, as many of the GoodNewsIndia heroes featured at this site are. They seem to have an unconscious faith that in this country, good causes will find the support they need.

They rented a small house in Basaveshwara Nagara in Bangalore and put up a sign. Soon, businessman Bipin Avalani drove up and handed his son Hemal over. Hemal, then 16, could not even clean himself and needed constant attention at home. The girls had their first ward. Bipin gave them Rs.5000.

Shristi fanned out to schools nearby to spot children needing their care. What they saw would move even the hard hearted. There was no programme to sort the children and grade their needs. They were often mocked and treated as though they were insane. Some of the hyperactive were even tied to chairs. Thirty years ago, for a struggling India, the needs of non-ordinary people was a peripheral issue.

The central difference in special people is their difficulties in communicating, associating and comprehending a world we, the 'normal' have constructed. Within that difference, there is a whole range to the difficulty; from the marginal to the extreme. Autism is a catch-all phrase to a wide spectrum of disorders. It has in fact been called the Spectrum Disorder.

It is a lifelong predicament. Since it is not a disease, it cannot be 'cured'. But most, can be trained to care for themselves. Autists are often very creative and compassionate. They respond to music, colours, dance and being given small responsibilities. The trick is to find what a child is good at, for it is certainly good at something.

'Just in time' help:

Bipin Avalani's Rs.5000 had seemed like a windfall to Shristi's founders. After all, throughout their earlier work-life of 23 years between them, they had seldom earned more than Rs.800 per month. But reality caught up with them soon, as more and more parents brought their children over. Driven by bills, the young ladies borrowed Rs.35,000 from loan-sharks at 36% per annum!

Such astounding naievete seems tolerable in do-gooders-- in India, the parachute always opens on time. Meena who spends most of her time raising funds says: "The parents made sure we didn't fold up. They gave what they could and brought their friends over and they gave generously too." Today, 6 year-old Shristi cares for 70 special people. The monthly budget has grown to just over Rs.200,000. While that's a number that Meena must vault every month, Rs.80,000 of it comes from patrons and parents.

In 2002, Shristi created a happy modern facility at Chennanahalli near Bangalore. Their services are now available to rural parents as well. The 2 acre land on which this centre stands, belonged to Mrs. Jayashree Prasad -- she donated it Shristi. K Venkateshwar facilitated its acquisition in several ways. Mrs.Saroja Naidu, a legendary philanthropist of Bangalore gave Rs.400,000, Amar Rehman from Chennai gave Rs.50,000 and many others send regular sums.

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