Krishna, Jayashree, Lakshmi and Jayanthi are quadruplets. Krishna and Jayashree are students of Class 6 at Jamnabai Narsee School in Mumbai, and Lakshmi and Jayanthi are children with autism. The four of them found an organisation named Together for the development of children with special needs. This is the story of their journey so far, written by Krishna and Jayashree
Around four years ago, we were playing together in our building complex—Lakshmi, Jayanthi and the both of us. Lakshmi was riding her bicycle and was laughing aloud. This was when an elderly man from the building pointed at her and called her "mad." We felt really bad. Nobody had ever said something like this to Lakshmi before. We tried to explain to him that Lakshmi is autistic but he just wouldn't listen.
It is an organisation meant to teach children with special needs things that they enjoy learning and doing.
Both of us were in tears while going upstairs, but Lakshmi continued laughing. She didn't understand what had just happened and it made us feel worse.
That night, we told our mother Sangeetha about this episode. We demanded that she go to every house in our building and explain that Lakshmi and Jayanthi are not mad... only different. But she said that we should think of something else to connect Lakshmi with others in the building and help people know her for what she can do.
And thus, "Together" was born—a unique initiative to create a community of support and recognition for children with special needs in our locality. It is an organisation meant to teach children with special needs things that they enjoy learning and doing.
The first thing we started was the cookie project that involved baking cookies and selling them.
It began with the four of us, our teacher Rinku, our mother Sangeetha, father V. Chakrapani and Kiran Khalap, founder of Chlorophyll Brand and Communications Consultancy. Kiran uncle helped us a lot—he came up with the name Together, wrote our story, encouraged us to write our own blogs and told us that Together belongs to all children. We call him the head boy of Together.
With the cookie project, we are looking at imparting meaningful learning in baking as well as learning to learn/work in a professional environment. Eventually, we hope to set up a full-fledged vocational centre for people to be able to spend more time engaged in learning and earning. Slowly, orders started coming in and in a few months we organised a baking and diya-painting party for all the children in our building. There were 40 children and so many orders by the end of it that we started a WhatsApp group only for the cookie project. After that, we felt the need for a commercial oven because we could not manage so many orders with a microwave oven. Our mother went to an organisation called Puratos and asked for help in buying a suitable oven. But when they heard our story, they invited us to their head office and to bake in their bakery every Saturday.
We then became a group of 10 children—a group of special and not-so-special children. Some of us talk and some don't. Some of us bake cookies and some of us help. We all study at different schools and meet to learn at Together.
Whenever we talk about the future, and we do that very often, we wonder what children like Lakshmi and Jayanthi will do. We used to ask this question frequently and our mother told us that we have to help them live independently i.e. to support themselves but in an environment that also provides support.
That is how we thought about starting a life skills centre.
Founded with a team of parents, professionals and special educators, this centre helps students with special needs learn many things—getting ready for meals, helping in the kitchen, serving food, clearing and washing, meaningful use of leisure time, grooming, learning to make phone calls, etc. They learn skills like baking, crafts and computers too. Today, we have many teachers, parents and friends, who call themselves our co-workers. We want Together Life Skills Centre to become very popular. The children of Together should be known for their achievements and they should get the honour and respect they deserve.
Things we've learnt at Together:
1. Special children, particularly those with autism, don't talk to us but they definitely enjoy our company. So it is important to be inclusive for them to be happy.
2. Sometimes, they do things they should not be doing in order to get our attention. So, it is important to teach them nice things, even if they are small things, and give them attention for those.
3. They take time to process things so when they become older, they may face lots of problems. So we have to teach them all those things that we may find very simple but it will help them enormously.
4. It's important to have fun—to laugh at them and at ourselves too. That is not wrong. But it's important to be gentle and to accept each other with all our heart.
—Krishna and Jayashree
At The Better India, we are constantly in search for people, projects and organisations that are making a positive impact to the lives of others. Read about many similar change-makers who are on a quest to make Better Days a reality.