Six years ago, Jayashree Alte, a resident of the Chembur slums, gave birth to a boy. Ganesh was a happy, healthy baby for the first two days of his life. A severe epileptic attack changed everything and his physical development staggered. He still cannot walk. Since then, Jayashree has been juggling her business of making papads with helping her son walk and sit like any other boy. But it is easier said than done. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy, it is nearly impossible for Ganesh to use his hands and legs as the rest of us do. He is totally dependent for his daily activities.
His parents are terrified of sending their fragile boy to school. What if he is not given the attention he needs? He hurts himself frequently. Will the people in his school know how to take care of him? Ganesh is also unaccustomed to sounds and voices, reacting loudly whenever he hears something unfamiliar. In their mind, there is no place in school for Ganesh and hence, he has never gone to school.
Ganesh with his mother
Just a few streets away, twelve-year-old Akansha cries out, summoning her mother instantly. Akansha also barely leaves the house. The road outside is so narrow that her mother cannot hold her body up as she tries to walk. Now that Akansha is much heavier, she needs three people to support her as she walks. Her family was asked to consider a wheelchair but when there is barely enough space for one person to walk, how could a wheelchair possibly solve the problem? Going to school was out of the question.
Urmi Foundation volunteers helping Akansha walk
Akansha and Ganesh are two of the children Sonalee Shyamsunder discovered while going door to door in the slums of Chembur, Mumbai. After learning that there was negligible improvement in the lives of children in BMC special schools and spurred by the lack of opportunities provided to differently-abled children, Sonalee left her job as a journalist and started the Urmi Foundation.
This team of eight young women are dedicated to travelling through the slums, finding children who require their help and relentlessly convincing their parents to allow them to join school. The Urmi Foundation not only designs courses and a number of interesting activities for those with ADHD and cerebral palsy in order to improve the physical independence, academic and social skills of the students, but also plays an important part in the community by helping the children transition into normal lives.
After seeing the tremendous improvement in the special students, Sonalee has decided to go a step further and actively seek out children who have never been to school in order to equip them with practical skills that will allow them to be independent. There have been many hurdles in her path. Most parents refuse. Some even deny having children. After multiple visits to the families of these children, the Urmi Foundation has enrolled one hundred students.
Sonalee with Akansha
Urmi Foundation's main goal for this project is to aid special needs children ease into the education system, become independent and avoid the risk of physical degeneration, increased severity of spasticity and continued social exclusion. Sonalee hopes to gain support and funding to help many children like Ganesh fight against the stigma of disability and lead a normal life to utilize their full potential through education.