The holy city, Varanasi, attracts people from across the world – some come to scatter ashes of their departed family members into the holy Ganga, others to cleanse their souls by taking a dip in the holy waters themselves, yet others come to pay their respects to Lord Shiva at the famous Kashi Vishwanath Mandir. Amongst all these people, is a particular set of parents who come to the city for an entirely different reason. Parents of children from Uttar Pradesh itself, as well as neighbouring Bihar and Rajasthan who all have one thing in common – they have a disabled child (/children). These parents make their way here to enrol their children into Kiran Society, a 20+ year old nonprofit organisation that caters to the needs of special children.
Kiran Society is located over an hour away from the main city, in Madhopur village. Originally set up in Nagwa, in the heart of the city, they moved to the Madhopur campus when the Nagwa center reached its capacity. The move itself speaks volumes for the need of services being offered by Kiran in this part of the country.
As I was taken around their campus, I understood how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together. It all starts at the Parents and Child Care Unit (PCCU) where children wishing to avail of any of Kiran Society’s services are first brought to. A team of a special educator, a neurologist and an occupational therapist tests, evaluates and assesses what services the child is in need of. Accordingly, s/he is recommended for physiotherapy or special education (or even both). As many children as possible are accepted into Kiran Society for further rehabilitation; else parents are guided to other organisations.
Kiran provides formal education to children from Kindergarden to 5th standard. Students follow the normal curriculum of academics as designed by the Uttar Pradesh Government. After completing 5th standard, they are integrated into regular schools in their neighbourhood and further cared for by Kiran’s workers themselves. Those who due to severity of their disability cannot find admission in a regular school after 5th class, may continue their studies at Kiran Society upto 12th class, through National Institute of Open Schooling ( NIOS).
One room on campus is dedicated to the manufacture of prosthetics and other limbs. All appliances, which range from sprints to body braces and gaiters, are manufactured out of light weighted polypropylene. The staff here shared with me that all appliances are tailor made to the individual’s size and it takes them just 2 days to deliver on each order. Very efficient! What stood out for me though was their IQ Toy Manufacturing Wood Workshop. Special toys that help in development of the children are manufactured here. And boy do they truly test one’s IQ! I was not able to successfully play with one, a toy which required a ring tied on a rope (which was tied in a particular manner to a wooden slab) to be moved from one side to the other. I also noticed that most people operating the machinery had partial disabilities themselves.
As I walked around, I was also quite amazed to see a bunch of foreigners around campus. I learnt that Kiran Society regularly sees volunteers from abroad, who spend a minimum of 5 months at the organisation, volunteering in different capacities.
The two most recent additions on the campus are the Human Resource Training Center (HRTC) and the Library. To provide qualified and skilled professionals in rural areas of UP, HRTC plays an important role in preparing professionals. The center offers a two year formal diploma course in Special Education as well as a one year Certificate Course for Rehabilitation Therapy Assistant. The course curriculum is designed to meet the needs of skilled special educators who can give their experience in rural parts of Uttar Pradesh.
I also learnt that their services aren’t limited to those who come to the campus only. Their outreach team reaches out to children from far off villages in surrounding districts of Varanasi too. They examine the children and accordingly take remedial measures, which may be for needed orthopaedic appliances and/or to bring them into the rehabilitation process. This could be access to therapy, education, counselling or even surgery if necessary.
I also stocked up on a bunch of items from their store, before I headed back. The store is stocked with items made by disabled children themselves as part of their vocational training (or efforts to tap into the artistic ability of other children). The staff shared with me that they have intentionally selected activities like beading a necklace or block painting, which are easy to do yet improve upon the child’s motor or other muscles. Of course, final touches and packaging is done by the teacher ( who is not a disabled person) to make the product market ready. Vocational training in horticulture, bakery, and tailoring is also given.
Buying products was my way of encouraging Kiran Society to continue its activities. Because this organisation is providing a much needed service. From 30 children in its first year, over 4,000 children have benefitted from its services till date. (250 who come in regularly to the KIRAN village and the rest through outreach camps conducted monthly in the villages of several districts.)