Established in 1987, Shishu Sarothi has grown during the course of three decades to become a leading regional organisation Credit: EastMojo image

Guwahati: On May Day, Shishu Sarothi celebrated its 32nd Foundation Day with a day-long programme open to all on its premises in Guwahati. Established in 1987, the organisation has grown in the course of three decades, and widened as well, as its nature of services has changed.

Shishu Sarothi, the Centre for Rehabilitation & Training for Multiple Disability, saw a footfall of enthusiastic students, family members and well-wishers who participated in the colourful fete that offered student-made products, game stalls and musical performances, among others.

Speaking to EastMojo, Ketaki Bardalai, the executive director of the organisation, said, “I was very actively involved in the formative years of setting up Shishu Sarothi, so it’s sort of emotional to think of where we are today. It started in a very modest way with two children in a spare room in one of the children’s grandfather’s house, one trained teacher, volunteers and family members. And from that one-room set up to today to be in this wonderful facility is unbelievable. It’s like a dream come true.”

On the celebrations, she said in the first part of celebrations there was a fete with games, fun, foods stall and music. Around early evening, “we will have a cultural programme where our children, staff, parents, [and] our mothers have put together a variety entertainment show”, and later around 5.30 pm, there will be an informal musical evening.

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“On this day, we opened our doors to everybody, like our old children, parents, family, friends, well-wishers, people from the community and the neighbourhood. We feel it will be great if everybody comes and celebrates this very special occasion with us, because that’s what inclusion is all about,” she added.

Referring to the handmade items kept for sale like pen stands, notebooks, file folders, earrings, handkerchief, tiaras, etc, Arpit, a design consultant with the vocational department of Shishu Sarothi, said, “Students who make it have disability, mostly developmental disability, like autism, cerebral palsy, [and] Down syndrome. These students are mostly 18 plus, and they have been producing this over the last two years. Whatever we sell here, whatever proceeds we get, some are distributed among the students and the remaining is put back in the organisation for buying material for the vocational department.”

Recalling the time when the non-profit organisation finally got a land, Bardalai said, “When we got the land allotted to us by the government. It was a large marshy land over here, and we were wondering how we were going to raise resources to create a facility here, and it happened! So I think when you do good work, there is a higher power that helps take you in that direction.”

The foundation day saw a huge footfall of students, family members and well-wishers

Bardalai said that organisation follows a twin-track approach, where because of the nature of the disability of the children, it continues the service deliveries with its early intervention programme and centre for rehabilitation. Its centre for special education too has evolved, because with the Right to Education Act, 2009 guaranteed by law and the rights guaranteed by the Rights of Persons with Disability Act, 2016, the paradigm has changed.

“We have service deliverable on one track, and on the other track we are pushing for inclusion, the way society views disability, the advocacy, the activist, the rights based approach. We are working parallel with these two which is very unique because other organisations are either this or that, and here Shishu Sarothi is a combination of both. That is something very special and unique about us,” she explained.

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On future plans for Shishu Sarothi, Bardalai said, “We hope to promote the concept of inclusive education in a big way, evolve into a resource centre so that others can come and see how quality education can be given to children with disability.”

“We want to take our work closer to the children. We want to expand and extend that work into other districts. We already have a program that takes our team to Goalpara on a weekly basisly; we would like to extend that further so that children who need early intervention service are able to access that. We also wish to scale up the awareness and advocacy work that we are doing by creating awareness about the rights and entitlement of the people with disabilities. That work will be directed both at right holders, which are people with disabilities, as well as duty bearers, which are government officials, and authorities who have a responsibility to implement the laws and various policies,” she said.

Commenting on differently-abled children, Bardalai said, “You are children first and don’t forget that. You have to enjoy your childhood and we will try our best to make sure that you are able to do so.”

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