The sound of music engulfed me as I walked into a ground-floor apartment at Powai. A group of young men and women was practising a dance — surrounded by grinning and cheerful youth in wheelchairs. The dancers were disabled but who noticed? The josh — the verve and sheer joy — with which they tried to master their steps was riveting. Music and dance was the last thing I expected in a centre for the disabled, conditioned as I was by other, more clinical institutions. But, says Sujata Srivastava, music and dance and, indeed, an attitude of work and play, are integral to the spirit of the MBA Foundation. “You will find the atmosphere at our centres very lively. We believe in integrating the disabled with the able as a seamless process,” she said.

Started by Meenakshi and CR Balasubramanian in 2001, the MBA (Mutually Beneficial Activity) Foundation believes in providing a ‘life with self-esteem and dignity for the disabled’. It helps them to become productive members of the society and trains them to acquire skills to support themselves. Apart from counselling and occup-ational therapy, they are given vocational training, taught to use computers for data-entry or learn to operate photocopiers, scanners and lamination machines or are trained as telephone operators. After the training, efforts are made to find them jobs and give support to integrate them into their work scenario.

Attempts are made to assess and strengthen the abilities of the challenged. “In one instance, a girl came to us after losing both her legs in an accident. We found she had a talent for cooking and she began making puranpolis and rotis. Now, she’s been with us for the past five years. Last year, she underwent a special education course and appeared for the NIOS (National Institute of Open Schooling) and cleared three subjects,” Sujata informed. Various products like stationery, candles and agarbathis, aprons, bags, home-made snacks and detergents are made and sold under the brand of GODS, an acronym for Groups of Disabled.

Both Meenakshi and Sujata had worked earlier with the Spastics Society of India (SSI) having joined it as parents of disabled children. SSI has a cut-off age of 17 which leaves disabled adults at a loose end and barely ready to join the mainstream. Their own learning as parents led them to train in special education and counselling. Sujata says, "I always look into a parent’s eyes from my eyes." 

"Several organisations for the disabled provide training for a few years, after which the student is expected to fend for himself/herself. But we tried to go beyond and provide employment and, if necessary, complete life-care" says Meenakshi. Today, the Foundation has 75 students in three centres at Powai, Chembur and Thane. Its services include early childhood intervention, coaching dropouts for the NIOS programme, executive development and training.
Its residential life-care programme has around 12 residents (some rejected by their families) and provides all the care, including medical and emotional support, to help them lead a fulfilled life. Although numbers are restricted due to space constraint, a day-care centre is a popular option where severely and moderately disabled adults can avail vocational training, therapy and, fun and relaxation activities like music, dance, yoga, story-telling, etc.

There are several schemes and programmes for the disabled but reaching out to them is difficult and community support is rather slow. The MBA Foundation desperately needs space for its programmes to expand its reach. “Life-care is so important. Our students will need some form of permanent life-care. And we need space to reach out to more and more people,” says Meenakshi. Till then, the Foundation perseveres, with a smile and a prayer.

How can you support MBA Foundation?

Sponsor day care and therapy of one resident for one month for Rs1000 (appx US$21)

Contribute to their corpus fund.


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