January 23, 2020
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Workshop Of The Elves

This office for the mentally disabled strives to give them a sense of self-worth and achievement

Workshop Of The Elves
Abhijit Bhatlekar
Workshop Of The Elves
For this chirpy 24-year-old, there’s more to life than the thrills of the fast lane. Komal says she is a slow learner of skills, and she can’t help it. After all, it’s no easy task to weave intricate flower patterns on telephone covers with just her left leg and mouth. Komal was born with cerebral palsy: one side of her body, the right side, is completely paralysed. Still, her survival instincts block out all thoughts of quitting—she earns about Rs 380 every month and is even able to keep some money for herself. Says Komal: "This is my money. This is my office. We have work here. I like it here because I make things, I do things."

In the last two years since its inception, the MBA, or the Mutually Beneficial Activity Foundation in Mumbai’s Chembur has provided an ‘office’ for many like Komal. Started by Meenakshi Balasubramunium, a former teacher with the Spastic Society, the foundation runs a daycare centre where mentally challenged girls and boys learn various skills. "It is very hard for mentally disabled youngsters to find employment. Once they’ve learnt whatever society could teach them, they have nowhere to go. They stay at home while their parents fret about their uncertain future," she says. With her husband, C.R. Balasubramunium, co-founder of MBA, she has ensured an atmosphere as close to a buzzing work situation as possible. Trained co-ordinators take care of the disabled youngsters and the lively environment at the foundation gives them a sense of self- worth and achievement.

Says Balasubramunium: "Many parents get disheartened when they don’t see the desired result in their children in the initial years of intervention." The boys and girls learn to make candles, jute bags, napkins, telephone covers, liquid soaps, paint diyas or tend to their plants. All the children at MBA are also paid their salaries at the end of the month: for now, the Balasubramuniums are making both ends meet with the help of the fees parents pay and from private donations. The kids also go out and sell their own products at upmarket departmental stores, shopping centres and apartment complexes, along with their parents. The couple’s son, Akhil, who too is mentally challenged, meets people and talks them into giving the foundation a stall.

The MBA now also has a lifecare facility along with the daycare. Disabled youngsters come and stay over when their families are out on holidays, or they can stay longer. Like 17-year-old Hiren. His rigorous schedule starts with prayers, yoga and gardening, followed by folding and sticking of paper onto envelopes. Davinder, 28, comes to the foundation on weekends because his family is slowly weaning him off them. Davinder’s sister is soon going to be married and his family says there won’t be anybody to take care of the severely mentally challenged youth once she is gone. His mother brings him to MBA’s Powai-based lifecare facility on weekends and stays away from him while the co-ordinators try to keep him busy. But he’s not been able to forget his sister: Davinder still calls out for her in his sleep. There is, however, another positive change: he’s started calling the Balasubramuniums mommy and daddy. The foundation can be contacted at: MBA Foundation, A-2, Navgeetha, St Anthony’s Road, Chembur, Mumbai—400071; Phone: 25215502/ 25234752/28574456; e-mail: crbmanian@rediffmail.com

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