| The participants from Patna who qualified for the World Special Olympics and (below) a youth being awarded at the volunteers’ programme launch in Athens. Picture on left by Ranjeet Kumar Dey |
Patna, June 12: The usual reaction of Premlata Devi (45), mother of Neha Kumari (22), when her daughter wanted to take part in outdoor activities like other girls of her age was: “She can’t do it.” Neha was an intellectually disabled child.
However, all that has changed now. Neha is now on her way to take part in World Special Olympics in Athens, Greece. She, and other participants, including Mohammad Shahnavaz, Suprabhat Kumar and Radha Kumari, started for the sports meet that kicks off on July 25 this year on June 2.
Neha is a champ in a unique ball sport called bocce. This young sportsperson, however, has also conquered the hurdle race of life with the help of Samparan, a unit of non-government organisation Child Concern.
Samparan began its journey 1996 as a brainchild of social activist Shivajee Kumar. Inspired by an incident in his school, Shivajee started the institution for mentally challenged children.
“I laid the foundation of Samarpan in 1996. I got the inspiration to start the organisation from an experience during my schooldays. In my village, there was a mentally challenged girl called Pagli. The villagers used to throw stones at her without any reason, and her family had abandoned her,” said Shivajee.
He added: “Later, I came to know from doctors that she could not be treated with medicine. That was my first encounter with a mentally challenged person. I used to think that after all she was one of us. Why isolate her from normal life?
“After completing my Plus 2, I wanted to pursue a bachelor in mental retardation from the National Institute of Mentally Handicapped in Andhra Pradesh,” said the social activist.
Shivajee added: “My parents were not very happy with my decision because I had already cleared the admission test at BIT-Mesra and IIT-Roorkee. I went to Hyderabad to pursue my course despite their objections. My parents refused to pay my fees but somehow I managed to complete the course by taking private tuitions.”
“After I finished my course, I joined the Tripolia Hospital in Patna as a consultant for mental retardation. After a few years, I started Samarpan on the suggestion of my colleagues,” he said.
At present, Samarpan works in 36 out of the 38 districts of Bihar for the intellectually disabled children of different categories, like autism, cerebral palsy, and children with learning disabilities. The treatment uses speech therapy and physiotherapy according to the needs of the children.
Sports are a major component of the process. Children are enrolled in various sports after an assessment of their abilities. If a boy or girl is not very physically strong, he or she is trained for games like throwball and softball. However, if they have the skill, they are taught to play volleyball and cycling.
“Around 1,800 mentally challenged children are associated with Samarpan at present. The members of the organisation nurse around 740 autistic children and 1,100 children affected by cerebral palsy. Very few people have explored the physical abilities of mentally challenged children. In the course of our training, we have found that these children are as good as normal children in sports. They only need proper training. The trainers need to be patient, as the children take some time to learn. However, they can surprise you with their learning capabilities,” said Shivajee.
“We are lucky that Moin-ul-Haq Stadium is near our centre. We can take the children to the stadium everyday. They can spend hours training for various sports. Initially, other children used to come there and make fun of them. But we challenged them to play with the children of our centre. The normal children lost the game and later became friends of our children. Now they help us whenever we need them,” said Shivajee.
Sports, after all, can be a great leveller.