A world away but so close to home
By: Anchel Krishna @AnchelK
When you think of rural South India, what do you picture? Perhaps it’s lush green landscapes, oxen pulling carts, and villagers carrying crops on their heads as they kick up the dust on the roads as they walk. But do you also picture a revolutionary school that integrates disabled youth with typically developing kids, while offering a high level of education and rehabilitation services that mirror what we might be offered here in North America?
Amar Seva Sangam (Sangam) is doing just that. Located more than 600km away from Chennai, in the rural village of Ayikudy, Tamil Nadu, the idyllic 40-acre campus is getting accolades from all over India and around the world What’s even more amazing? Sangam is run by Sankara Raman, a chartered accountant who is confined to a wheelchair because of Muscular Dystrophy.
“As I was growing up, my parents made sure I was given every opportunity to succeed, just like any other child. Many of the children served by Sangam may not get the support they need because of financial issues, lack of access to services and the stigma associated with special needs and disabilities. Many of these children may have been abandoned. What we offer is access to the care they need and a sense of family,” said Sankara Raman.
Sangam also has a close-to-home connection for our family. Sankara Raman is my husband’s uncle and my mother-in-law runs Handi-Care International, a Canadian charity that is dedicated to supporting Sangam. This year, Handi-Care International celebrates its 20th anniversary with a fundraising dinner and cultural program on Saturday, Sept. 22nd at Sringeri Vidya Bharati Foundation (SVBF) Banquet Hall in Etobicoke. Handi-Care International also partners with several Canadian universities to offer students opportunities to volunteer and train at Sangam. These students benefit by getting hands-on training, while Sangam benefits from the students’ learning.
This year, Handi-Care International’s fundraising has a specific focus: building an early intervention centre that provides rehabilitation therapy services to children from birth to five years of age. Early intervention has been proven to be one of the most effective treatments to help ensure those with disabilities are able to live up to their full potential.
The importance of early intervention is something we know all too well in my house. After what we thought was an uncomplicated pregnancy, our daughter, Syona, made a complicated arrival, one month early and spent her first two weeks in the NICU. Over the next couple of months we discovered that Syona had suffered a specific type of brain damage that increases the risk for several complications – many of which can cause serious development and disability issues. As Syona’s first year progressed, she missed milestone after milestone and we knew that we were likely looking at a diagnosis of cerebral palsy– a neurological disorder that impacts how the muscles and brain communicate. At almost two-years-old Syona can’t yet sit independently, crawl or walk. However she’s a strong-willed and happy little girl who is the joy of our life.
As these events unfolded, I also started to realize how fortunate we were. We had doctors involved in Syona’s care from the start, along with referrals to the appropriate therapists and healthcare professionals that could help ensure that she is able to develop to her fullest ability.
I find my thoughts regularly float back to the kids at Sangam. We visited the centre in 2010 (before Syona was born). At that point, my experience with special needs was very limited. What did I notice? More than anything, it was the smiling faces. I wondered at that time how these kids, many of whom were physically able to do very little, be so happy. I have the answers now, and they can be seen in my very own home. It’s because of the focus on what they were able to do, rather than just their disabilities. It was because they had a support system and people that encouraged them to do their best. It was because they were part of a community that provided love and acceptance.
We grew up in Canada, and our parents left a country behind to start a new life in a new world. But they certainly didn’t leave their sense of responsibility to India behind and have found an incredible way to connect resources in Canada with what’s available in India.
There’s a saying – when you become a mother, you become a mother to the world. Even though these kids that are under the care at Sangam aren’t my kids, I sleep a bit better knowing that someone’s out there taking care of them.
For more information about Sangam, please visit www.amarseva.org. To make a donation, sponsor a child or purchase tickets for Handi-Care International’s fundraising event please visit www.handicareintl.org/New/index.php?id=1.
More About Anchel Krishna
Anchel is a freelance writer and mother of one in the Toronto area. With an educational background in journalism and professional experience in strategic communications, Anchel now focuses on taking care of her toddler while attempting to string together coherent sentences. She is also the special needs parenting blogger for Today’s Parent
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