Timely help for COVID-hit home for intellectually-challenged children

Self-pity and empathy are indistinguishable, but for their focal point. Both respond readily to pain, even exaggerating it to optimise the response. The pandemic has instantiated innumerable acts of empathy, with volunteers springing up overnight to serve others, sometimes to the point of suppressing the instinct for self-preservation.

Recently, when Bala Vihar, a home for intellectually challenged children in Kilpauk, was quarantined with 78 COVID-positive residents lodged in an isolation block inside, an SUV trundled to its gates loaded with essentials.

Donors swinging by Bala Vihar regularly to drop supplies had dwindled to a trickle during the pandemic. With the premises being temporarily sealed off by the Greater Chennai Corporation to keep the contagion in check, the trickle had reduced further. So these supplies were accepted with the eagerness of parched earth receiving the first showers of a monsoon.

“The donors are scared; the shops are closed and the vendors are not ready to come inside,” Susheela Maharaja, honorary secretary and correspondent, Bala Vihar, describes the prevailing scenario.

It is against this backdrop that parents of special-needs children representing Special Child Assistance Network (SCAN) have stepped in, quickly-bought provisions, basic medical supplies and a corpus fund in hand.

On the evening of May 18, when news about Bala Vihar’s battle against the Coronavirus broke, parents of SCAN passed the hat around, and when May 19 was a smouldering ember, the generosity had swelled to ₹1.2 lakh.

( Susheela points out that similarly, after the news spread via media, “other NGOs, including Poorani Foundation and Maatram Trust have come forward to help Bala Vihar. Individual entities are also helping out, and these include two people living abroad who have ordered via Amazon.”)

Speaking to The Hindu Downtown on May 26, Gopinath Ramakrishnan of SCAN explains that he learnt about the situation on May 18 evening on a television channel and without wasting any time, Suja Shyamsundar, another SCAN parent, alerted the rest about it on the community’s Telegram group. “In the first 24 hours, ₹1.2 lakh was collected.” By May 26, close to ₹2 lakh had flowed in.

Around 620-members strong, SCAN’s Telegram group consists of relatives — parents, grandparents and siblings — of special-needs children.

Though it transcends geography while deliberating on issues relating to specials-needs children, particularly on its Facebook page, SCAN is heavily defined by terra firma — more precisely, Chennai soil.

A registered trust, SCAN was operating from a physical space, catering to specal-needs children and their parents in Chennai till the pandemic drove the world indoors and online.

These parents are clued into the local special-needs ecosystem, which includes an awareness of the challenges faced by Bala Vihar.

Timely help for COVID-hit home for intellectually-challenged children

“Many of our parents used to go once in a while on special occasions — their child’s birthday, their wedding anniversary and so on — and deliver something. For the last one and a half years though, nobody has gone.” Gopinath adds: “SCAN parents have also arranged for physical fitness trainers to visit Bala Vihar to initiate sporting activities for the children there.”

Run by the Guild of Service, Bala Vihar relies on donations in cash and kind.

“Over the last year and a half years, the donations had been coming down due to the pandemic. Following this crisis, I asked Susheela to let us know what was required. The next day, she sent us a list, which included Pulse Oximeters, PPE kits and N95 masks and cleaning items like Dettol. The same day in our group, people started transferring money. In fact, I got the Bala Vihar account, and so those who wanted to contribute directly could do so. The rest could contribute to our SCAN account.”

Food items were procured.

The route to the home
  • A home for the intellectually challenged, Bala Vihar has two units, one in Kilpauk and the other in Vepampattu, Tiruvallur district. The Kilpauk home is for juveniles ; and the home in Vepampattu, for adults.
  • “The children who grow up in Kilpauk go to Vepampattu. A majority of the children are however stuck at the Kilpauk home — there are a hundred of them aged above 18. Altogether, there are 170 children. As long as it is a juvenile home, we call all of them children only. In Vepampattu, there are 105 residents,” says Susheela Maharaja, honorary secretary and correspondent of both units.
  • The children broadly fall into two categories. “The abandoned ones; and the ones that cannot be cared for by their parents, due to poverty or safety concerns. These parents go for work and so find it a challenge to manage these children who cannot be admitted in regular schools.
  • So, they go to Child Welfare Committee (CWC) or come through the child helpline 1098, and the CWC would send these children to us. Any child has to go to CWC and only with an order, come to us,” Susheela explains the process of how Bala Vihar finds its residents.
  • She continues: “The children are intellectually challenged and most of them would be having associative problems too — they may have cerebral palsy, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, autism. Most of them have co-morbidities and would be non-verbal. Many of them would be epileptic.”
  • “Found abandoned, often on trains, the police hand these children over to CWC, which will pass a temporary order for three days, when they will try to find out about the child’s family and so would we. In most cases, the temporary order would be changed to a permanent order. Sometimes, you have to start from the scratch, even having to name the child. That is usually the case with abandoned children who are non-verbal.”

“There are 170 children and 17 staff living on the Bala Vihar campus. Out of them, 70 children and eight staff members tested positive. We have two blocks, one of which now designated ‘isolation block’ lodges the 78 COVID-positive residents. The rest of the residents stay at the other section. The Corporation sought to find out if there were sufficient facilities,” says Susheela.

A medical officer with the Greater Chennai Corporation points out that as the cases were mild, they were given home quarantine. “The residents would be completing their quarantine period on June 31,” he discloses, adding that he visits the home twice a day to check on residents.

Gopinath underlines that their support to Bala Vihar would continue.

He elaborates, “Overall, we have collected close to ₹2 lakh, and a corpus fund of well over ₹1 lakh is with us. If they want us to transfer the remaining cash, we would do that. Or, if they want us to procure items for them, we would do that as we go along.”

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Printable version | Jul 30, 2021 5:15:42 PM |

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