Thursday, December 2, 2010
A Birthday For The Babies of Uttarakhand
Ever since we started Karuna Vihar, we've worried about the babies we never get to, the ones whose parents haven't heard of us, who have no idea that there is a whole world of possibility for their children. It happens because they don't have good doctors who know about early intervention and are willing to refer them to us, because they are too poor to see a doctor in the first place or because they live so far away from Dehradun it's as if they are in another country.
We worry about them partly because it's just not right that any child misses out on the chance to develop to his or her full potential and partly because the nation can't afford to lose what they have to offer.
All of our work with anganwadi staff and community health workers has been motivated by this concern: how can we let people - especially mothers - know about early intervention? How can we get to the babies before their parents give up on them? Because the first five years of life are amazing. And the first three are crucial.
Our early intervention centre began with a simple assumption, as articulated by its guiding spirit, the late Dr Linda Upadhyaya: "The most important professional in a child's care is the mother."
Our family-based program trains parents - usually Moms - to work with their own babies in a carefully designed plan to make the most of potential and ability. We look at what children can do, rather than what they can't. We create exercises, games and activities which are part of everyday routines yet which enhance communication, mobility and cognitive development.
As far as possible, we want the babies to have fun and the moms to not be burdened with additional responsibilities. So physio happens during the regular bath time; speech therapy occurs while Mom is making rotis or chopping vegetables.
Early intervention the way we do it is about enhancing regular, everyday life, making the most of ordinary opportunities - not about adding more work to an already packed day.
And it works. Over the years, we've seen babies learn to walk, talk and take turns. We've seen them learn to pay attention, adapt to their environments and play with their friends. Just as important, we've seen parents come to accept their children as they are, even when they don't learn to walk or talk or take turns.
If there is any miracle cure out there, early intervention may just be it. It's a sure-fire way to change attitudes before they get set in cement and the best antidote on the market to despair and pre-conceived ideas.
But we still worried about those babies whose parents hadn't heard of EI. What would happen to them?
Guess what? We just got a grant to open an Early Intervention Centre in Uttarakhand's biggest hospital! The government hospital, the one where everyone comes when they have a problem. This is HUGE, and all of our friends and supporters - those who believed in us from Day One - have reason to rejoice today. Your belief has sparked a revolution. The State of Uttarakhand agrees with you.
We are building a state-of-the-art centre at the Doon Hospital which will cater to the needs of thousands of children in our state. Finally, our dream of making Uttarakhand a model for the nation is coming true. It's all happening here. (We need a speech therapist, a counselor, a developmental therapist and a special educator. Spread the word. It's all happening here.)