As I enter the office of Mridul Singh, I see the smiling Samaritan discussing with some young people about the theatre performance of her schools kids. Later she informs me, the special children of Koshish are going to stage a drama in the first week of March and the students from National School of Drama are volunteering to train them and do rehearsals with the kids. I am awestruck! How many kids get this big a stage to perform? We salute the ‘Koshish’ of Mridul Singh who doesn’t leave even a single opportunity to bring her special children to the mainstream of every activity that a normal child loves to do.
Then she walks me into a classroom where her special kids are rehearsing through role playing. They need to enact their everyday activity right from waking up in the morning to going to bed at night. The children are happy and excited. They are acting themselves, brushing teeth, combing, reading book, and lot more. Mridul explains, “this might seem easy for us but for these children, thinking about their daily activities and enacting them is a big achievement.” She says, role playing is one of the best mediums to help special kids develop their mental faculty.
I thoroughly enjoyed the performances of these kids based on their personal lives as well as their excitement about getting clicked. I am prompted by the children to shoot them while they act and I do this happily.
Leaving the children behind busy rehearsing, we go to another class where some little kids are studying with the help of a teacher trained in special education. Some other kids are getting speech therapy. I also visited the room where physiotherapy is being done and could not stopped myself from appreciating the efforts of Mridul who is determinant of providing multi dimensional growth to her special kids.
But this is not a cakewalk for her. She regularly faces various challenges but her ‘Koshish’ never dies off! An excerpt of the interview with Ms Mridul Singh will bring into light all the positive changes she brings into the life of these special kids despite all sorts of challenges .
Q. From how many years have you been running this school for special kids?
Ans. It’s now over 10 years that ‘Koshish’ came into being. Before that, I was a lecturer in Amarjyoti Charitable Trust. I taught the students of Diploma/B.Ed, Special Education. In 2005, I started Koshish but it was only from 2007 that I got fully involved with it.
Q. How did you come across the idea of starting a school for special kids?
Ans. My elder daughter is a special child. Due to birth complications, she faces challenges in reading and writing. Just after her birth, the surgeon told me that my daughter would be like a raw vegetable and won’t have any sensation. As she did not get oxygen just after her birth, there were complications. Few surgeries were done and she survived but I was told, she will be fully dependent on others. As a mother, I could not let this happen. I struggled a lot and was able to make changes in her life. I wanted to bring such positive changes in other special kids too. So, I started this school. I also wanted my growth. I don’t have any monetary growth here but job satisfaction is there. Doing something for society makes me feel contended even when I face financial crisis.
Q. What difficulties were there for you when you took up the task of giving a respectable life to your special daughter?
Ans. In the beginning, I did not know anything about the needs of special kids, so, I started volunteering in a school for special children. This helped me a lot in understanding the needs of my daughter and with patience, hard work and continued efforts, I was able to make my daughter self dependent.
Q. How is your daughter now?
Ans. Now my daughter has overcome almost all the challenges. Although, she faces some problems but who doesn’t face them in life. Special or not, everyone has to face problems in life. It was a tough journey though. I am thankful to god that he made me so strong, gave me such energy that I could work upon my daughter. Now she is studying and works in a jewellery company. She is a graduate and has done graphic designing course too while doing job in the company.
Q. What are the challenges that you face in running ‘Koshish’?
Ans. Financial crisis is the biggest challenge for us. There is always a crisis of funds. I have an elaborate staff for every special need of the kids such as speech therapist, occupational therapist, special education teachers, physiotherapists other than regular assisting staff. I cannot even manage their salaries properly. I give salary to half of the staff in one month and to remaining staff, the salary is given in the next month. We are running the school like this for a long. We don’t get any aid from government. Even companies have not yet given any funds to us under CSR.
One more challenge is the approach of the parents towards their kids. They don’t accept their child is special. Sometimes when they realize that they are special, 80% of parents do not get ready to provide them special education. Parents also do not pay fees properly. Sometimes they say, you must be getting aid from government and sometimes they pay fee for only those days when their children were present in the school. But we cannot do anything, how can we not assist these children in becoming self dependent? They are special and our school strives to make their lives better.
Q. So how do you manage the expenses?
Ans. Apart from whatever money we get as fee, the other source of income for Koshish is the sale proceeds that come from the various things that kids make here during their vocational training. They make gift boxes, envelops, diaries and many other such things that are sold through exhibitions and also to certain companies. There is one more very environmental friendly source of income. We make organic Holi colours during the months of January to March. Flowers and garlands offered in the temples of the area are collected and dried in the sun and then in shade. These are then used to make organic Holi colours with the help of other natural ingredients. Before Holi, an exhibition is organized where these colours are sold off.
Q. How was your family’s approach towards your work? Did you get support from them?
Ans. At home, I faced strong opposition. My mother-in-law did not want me to step out of home to do job. She did not even want my daughter to get education as she believed my daughter would not be able to do anything and special education was a waste of money and time. But, as a mother, my heart was hopeful and I faced everyone who got into my way to educate my daughters.
I also faced some opposition from my younger daughter who is not a special child but who used to feel that I was not paying attention to her as I did not stay back at home most of the times. However, I made her understand with love and patience that I was doing all this for both of them. I wanted them to be well educated and self dependent career women. I told her that I fought with the world to educate both her daughters and now when they are grown ups and well educated, I cannot pull myself back. As a human being, I need to continuously grow and also contribute to the society. If I don’t use my knowledge for the betterment of special children, I will not be happy and satisfied. Eventually, all my family members have come to terms and even feel proud of me for my social contribution towards the special children.
Q. Was there any point in your life when you were not working and staying back at home? How did you feel then?
Ans. Once came a time when I thought, now that I have supported my daughter to a level where she can do things on her own, I can leave job and take rest. I left the job but could not sit at home for long. I again stepped out of home and established resource centres in quite a few normal schools where they now have these centres for special children. At the same time, I established my own school, ‘Koshish’. Till date, I also work as a visiting faculty and deliver lectures in various schools and institutes for Special Education Teachers Training.
As we were about to end our long chat, I was pleasantly surprised to hear a song and some noises from outside. Mridul informed me, the kids were doing their dance rehearsal for Republic Day function. I got excited to see the kids dancing. And just then, a child came running and asked me to video shoot their rehearsal. How could have he read my mind? Yes, these kids are really special.
With a smile we got up and I could never have witnessed such a fine performance on a song from a film that aptly describes these special kids, “Taare Zammen Par”! They are really like stars on earth and Mridul is like the moon who lights up their lives!
If SHE Can, YOU Can!