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Monica Dispatch

The Eternal Light Shines Brightly: Amar Jyoti, a School for the Differently-abled
May 6, 2000

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Have you ever heard of the Abilympics? This year, the International Abilympics 2000 will be held in Prague, Czech Republic, and delegations from all over the world will attend this competition. It's an honor for 20 Indian students to represent their home country in these games. And it's a double honor for their institution, Amar Jyoti, the first organization of its kind in India, to be represented at the Games.

Map
This year the participants were chosen in an all-India search. Some very special students made it onto the final team, all of whom are between the ages of 13 and 28. One young man is a computer whiz who writes computer programs with speed and ease--the fact that he's blind doesn't slow him down. Two other girls, one mentally challenged and another confined to a wheelchair twenty-four hours a day, also made it onto the team. Both of them will need assistance, but their skill levels are high. In the Abilympics they'll be pitted against competitors from all over the world in events such as computer programming, sewing and embroidery, poster design, and jewelry-making.

What can you do in your own community to work with people with disabilities?

Your school probably has a teacher who works with developmentally disabled students. Ask him or her what you can do to help out, either after school, or helping tutor classmates one-on-one.

Alternatively, go out into your community: perhaps a group like Big Brother/Big Sister can introduce you to a friend to hang out with. I bet you'll both benefit from your friendship.

Special Olympics competitions are held every year all over the world. To volunteer look up this web site: http://www.specialolympics.org/

A friend and I met General Singh, an advisor, and Uma Tuli, the Founder Managing Secretary to Amar Jyoti, while they were picking out T-shirt designs for the Abilympics delegation (they decided on light blue with white writing). General Singh explains about the Amar Jyoti team, "If you don't have the use of your legs, you'll be competing in events where you use your upper body and your hands."

Vocabulary

rehabilitative - describing something that restores good health or a useful life, through therapy and education
unhygienic - so unclean as to be a likely cause of disease
vocational - of or related to professions or trades
slums - a heavily populated urban area characterized by substandard housing and squalor
cosmetologist - an expert in the use of cosmetics

Amar Jyoti, located in New Delhi, means "Eternal Light." It certainly shines in its mission of providing schooling, vocational training, and health care to the differently-abled children here in India's capital. According to its annual report, 10% of people in India are affected by various disabilities. That's more than 98 million people! Of those, only 2% receive rehabilitative treatment: many families just leave these children to fend for themselves. What causes developmental disabilities? Well, if you're really poor and don't get enough to eat or enough proper care and you live in an unhygienic environment like one of the slums in Delhi, there's more of a risk that you won't develop normally. The children who come to Amar Jyoti are some of the lucky few who receive attention, education, and care.

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"We give them everything: books, stationery, uniforms, food, transport, and of course their education... We even have a clinic here so if the children need medication, they don't have to go too far, they can just get it at the dispensary here," says Meenakshi Madan, of the Department of Social Work at Amar Jyoti. Volunteer doctors, physical therapists, and occupational therapists join with staff, teachers, and concerned parents to provide what they call "integrated care" for the children. Meenakshi points out that government grants, as well as donors from all over India and abroad in Germany and Japan, provide for all of the children's needs. For instance, seven major surgeries, costing 7000-10,000 rupees apiece, were paid for by foreign donors.

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The medical care is my interest, but Amar Jyoti's main focus is academic and vocational training. V. B. Rastogi, the head of the Department of Social Work here, says, "Education is the most important." The school provides education up to VIII Standard, about 10th grade in the United States.

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There's vocational education too. Meenakshi takes us on a tour of all the different vocational classrooms provided. Almost anything you can imagine is here: jewelry making, textiles, arts and crafts, computer labs, secretarial practice, cutting and tailoring, carpentry, screen printing (That's my favorite. I got some beautiful printed cards with gold designs of mango trees on them), weaving, and electric wiring!

Student Profile

Laxmi came to Amar Jyoti at four years old, in 1982, when the first students entered the school. She couldn't walk and could only crawl using her limbs. Amar Jyoti provided calipers (braces) for her legs. Able to stand upright, Laxmi started walking, and then mastered dance and music. Through school she made it all the way to the highest level offered, VIII Standard, and then took courses in watch repair training here at the center. She's now taking classes with a nationally-known cosmetologist. Amar Jyoti is "proud to have fully rehabilitated the first student of the school."

The students here predominantly come from low-income backgrounds. Many of the families may have five to ten children; possibly, both parents are working "from early, say seven in the morning, until late at night, like ten o'clock." Regardless of their situation, Mrs. Rastogi believes that a majority of the parents realize the value of education and push their differently-abled child to go to school rather than work. Each teacher has 20-25 students, but the quality of "integrated care" is so good, there's always pressure to expand to more than the 545 children enrolled today.

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In the "urban slums" of east, central and north Delhi, Amar Jyoti has also established 30 centers. Here, they provide even more vocational training to over 4000 persons with disabilities who can't attend the school. Youth leaders in these centers perform plays and skits like "Koyla," about children who pick coal from a running goods train, to create community awareness about issues like education, personal hygiene, and child abuse.

You can help!

A donation of 3500 rupees (~$83US) will help:

  • educate one child for one year
  • treat one child with disability
  • provide vocational training to one child
To sponsor a child or to make a donation, write:

The Managing Secretary
Amar Jyoti Charitable Trust
N-192, Greater Kailash I
New Delhi 110 048

Amar Jyoti is just one example of a group of like-minded people making a difference. They've grown steadily in their mission since the first children joined their school, twenty years ago, and ask for your help in supporting their students.


Monica

p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...monicaflores@bigfoot.com
 




Abeja - Lost in Bombay
Andrew - The Things We Do for Love -- The Story Behind the Taj Mahal
Brian - Beginnings and Endings
Jasmine - Indiana Jazz and the Temple of Doom...or Not
Kavitha - Delhi -- The City I Love to Hate

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