Udaan in Shimla is working towards making children with special needs self reliant, both physically and financially

In a shocking incident several years back, Gunwant (name changed), a mother of two teenaged daughters suffering from cerebral palsy, was killed in broad daylight in one of Delhi’s posh colonies. Her husband had left her after the birth of their daughters and Gunwant had come to live with her old father. For some years before her death, she had tried to bring parents of special children on one platform to plan out some mechanism that could take care of their children in future. But before her efforts could fructify, she was killed.

Some years later in 2002, similar anxiety about the future of their own special children brought Lalita Rana and her husband and nine other parents together to launch Udaan in Shimla to look after and help in the development of such children. Today Udaan is taking care of more than 75 special children and adults from five year olds to a 34-year-old man with the mental age of five or six years. Twenty two of these children are in Rohru while the rest are in Shimla in a day care and residential facility.

While the organisation gets some help from The National Trust and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, it still has to raise 80 per cent of the funds, says Madhuri, another founding member.

From toilet training to imparting vocational training, the aim, says Ms. Rana, is to ensure that the children become as independent as possible — physically and economically — when they grow up.

The grown up boys are already earning through making envelops. They are being trained in candle making as well. The girls are taught embroidery, painting and other vocations. Computers with software for special children as well dance and music and other performing arts are being used as a therapy to enhance their capabilities.

Ms. Rana, who is also trained in special education like other parents, feels that first and foremost parents must accept that they have a special child; they should try not to be overprotective or over-ambitious about him or her. Emphasising the need for early intervention, she says that many parents waste their time going to astrologers and not taking them to institutions that can help.

Chuzu, suffering from cerebral palsy, came to Udaan when she was five years old. At that time, she was bedridden and could not even swallow food. Today, her mother Kanta Sharma proudly says that Chuzu can walk, comb her hair, eat solid food, tells when she needs to use the toilet and is even able to express her feelings. Now 12-year-old, Chuzu is so excited about going to the day care centre every day that she wants to be there even on a holiday.

“Even if I want to feed her myself, she does not allow me to do so because she wants to have her meals by herself as she does at the centre,” says Ms. Sharma, who agrees that this was made possible due to early intervention.

Dwelling upon the circumstances of some children, she tells the story of Krishna, who suffering from multiple disabilities was abandoned on the roads of Una town, starving almost to death. None of the welfare organisations would take him in. Ultimately, he was sent by the police to Udaan. When he was admitted to a hospital, the doctors were not sure whether he would survive. But today, he is not only alive and active but a darling of the staff.

Another initiative that Udaan took was sensitising society about special children. Aarti Raina, who works with Udaan, says that interaction between special children and children of local schools has really helped.