Armed with a post graduate degree in biophysics, Neelam Jolly moved to Delhi from Chandigarh in the late eighties. After switching to Delhi, she decided to switch tracks and underwent a course as a Therapist with AADI – an NGO devoted to educational and social integration of disabled children with the mainstream. This was an eye opener for her and she continued as a Therapist with AADI during which she gained intimate exposure to the needs and problems faced by children with disabilities.
In 2005, she started VISHWAS in Saanp ki Nagli Village in Sohna Block of Gurgaon district with support from Apollo Hospital. Set up in a small two room building, she called it VISHWAS – perhaps with a premonition about the trust and faith it would generate in the community over the next decade. After her experiences in Sohna, Neelam started with a small school in Gurgaon in 2007. The journey has been far from smooth and there have been many nights, she said, when she woke up with a panic attack for fear that she had made commitments that were too hard to keep like serving with better facilities, funds etc. However, with perseverance, their growth and quality of work for the community encouraged the Haryana government to allot them a building, which VISHWAS remodeled into a modern school facility and occupied in 2009.
Neelam muses – “Students are an extremely valuable resource. Our students were our best critics, guiding us all the way as we tried out new ideas. They made us truly understand the meaning of ‘all children’ by forcing us to look beyond the needs of students with disabilities. It was through the students that we learned the importance of understanding their culture and context. For example, when discussing safety in the event of an earthquake, the students explained that they did not have beds or tables in their houses and so could not shelter under them.”
“Our journey towards inclusive education has been challenging but extremely rewarding. Today we may not have all the answers, but at the same time we have a number of successful practices that have evolved in this period. This reaffirms our commitment to continue working towards inclusive education.”