July 08, 2020
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Adversity Inspired Her To Help Mentally Challenged Kids

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Adversity Inspired Her To Help Mentally Challenged Kids
It's not everyday that one comes across people like Meera Kagti - in whom adversity inspires a sense of service and philanthropy. It all began in 1987, when Meera found herself completely at sea when it came to handling her four-year-old nephew Amit Barua. The doctors' diagnosis was that he was suffering from cerebral palsy (CP). Meera soon discovered that this sad fate had not befallen her alone. Another family friend of hers was facing the same problem with her child.

Luck, however, was on Meera's side. She soon bumped into Brinda Crishna, a trained hand from the then Spastic Society of Eastern India, Calcutta. Brinda had accompanied her husband, working for a tea-brokering firm, to his posting in Assam.

Their encounter was providential but then on Meera and Brinda left nothing to destiny. The two got together and began Shishu Sarothi, an organisation to help mentally challenged children like Amit, in a one-room house. Today, Shishu Sarothi has grown into the Spastic Society of Assam, thanks to the perseverance of Meera and her band of dedicated associates. For, the journey was not a bump-free ride.

Recalls Meera: "To begin with, making parents accept the fact that their children suffered from CP was a gargantuan task. And even if we managed to convince them on that score, we found it doubly difficult to get them to send their children to our school. For most parents, especially in the northeast, CP is a stigma."

After spending almost a decade, moving from one rented accommodation to another, Sishu Sarothi today has its own building on a plot of three-bigha land donated by the Assam government. On this plot of land stands a square building now catering to 82 children suffering from CP. The building has all the facilities required to take care of the various needs of children suffering from this neural disorder. One room, for instance, is exclusively reserved for children who want to play. Then it also has facilities for handicrafts and making of greeting cards. Says Meera: "Local MPs and generous donors have contributed to our growth. In fact, one wing of the building has been built completely with donation money." With 12 trained teachers to assist her, Meera has built Shishu Sarothi into one of the finest institutions of its kind. Besides the day care centre, Shishu Sarothi runs four outreach centres in rural areas in a 100-km radius of Guwahati.

These units, also known as community-based rehab centres, first train village-level workers and then carry out counselling under the direct supervision of the Society. Meera, who is the chairperson of the Society and principal of the day-care school, says: "Without the active and dedicated service of our entire team, we would not have reached this stage."

Apart from the day-care school and the outreach centres, Shishu Sarothi has been successful in conducting counselling sessions for parents. Reveals she: "Creation of public awareness about cerebral palsy has been the most difficult part of this journey. Most people think CP-afflicted children as pagal (lunatics). To remove these notions, we resort to sensitisation of decision-makers and administrators."

As a consequence, the ministry of social justice and empowerment has pitched in with an annual grant. The Society also makes some money by selling the greeting cards and handicrafts made by children but mostly it has to depend upon corporate and individual donations.

Meera, on her part, doesn't merely rest on her laurels. She is also an active member of an association of like-minded ngos in Guwahati who meet frequently and chalk out programmes for the betterment of physically and mentally challenged people.

So, if you are moved and want to do your bit, contact Shishu Sarothi, Spastic Society of Assam, off Ramakrishna Mission Road, Birubari, Guwahati-781 016. Telephone: (0361-470 990).

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