Medha Lotlikar, Founder, Sarswati Mandir Trust, Mumbai
As a child, she suffered from learning problems. Now Medha Lotlikar, founder of Sarswati Mandir Trust runs three schools for children in Mumbai with severe learning disabilities. She tells YourStory that only way out to teach these children are to have an inclusive education system.
Why an entrepreneur and not a regular job? When did you decide to go on your own?
As a kid I had learning problems, but I worked hard on it and rectified them. I started taking part in debate and elocution competitions and represented my school and college at national level.
This self-learning process taught me that children with learning disabilities don't need special schools and should be taught in a regular school. Segregation only hampers their mental growth. I wanted to share my own experiences with other children having learning disabilities. So in 1988, I joined Sapling, a school for special children in Mumbai. I found out that children were normal after all but due to lack of awareness, especially among parents and educational institutes, these children were removed from regular schools. Since, I had no formal training as a special school educator; I decided to learn more about the processes and systems followed in special schools. I enrolled myself for special educator training course program in SNDT University. After completing the course, I established Sarswati Mandir Trust in 1994 at Dadar, Mumbai, and started Sarswati Mandir School for mentally retarded, autistic, and children with multiple disabilities.
Something on starting years
Starting years were difficult to say the least. Teachers were not trained; there were no funds and people believed that these children were capable of doing very little. There was no law to define disability. We admitted children from the lower socio-economic group as I believed in inclusive education. This motivated me to countries like USA, Australia and Germany to understand inclusive education practices which helped me devise a special curriculum, train the teachers, and start running it like a regular school with a vision of inclusive education. I started Tulip School in Bandra for children with multiple disabilities and severe autism.
Turning point in your business
Every child who has come to me has been a turning point in my life. I and rest of the faculty have learned so much by just observing them. The making of Taare Zameen Par was also a turning point. I worked closely with Amol Gupte (Creative Director), Aamir Khan (Producer and Director), and Deepa Bhatia (Film editor) and helped them in background research and making of the movie. The vision of inclusive education has been brought out beautifully in the movie.
Did at any point you felt like giving up and getting back to taking a regular job?
No, I have been struggling for funds, and faced red-tapism right from the inception of the school but challenges have only strengthened my resolve to help children. However, there have been a number of well-wishers, parents and children who have supported me through-out.
What drives you?
The fact that I consider every child as my child drives me. Whenever a new kid is brought to me, I ask myself, what I would have done had I been this kid's mother. A mother doesn't need motivation or drive to take care of her child.
Growth drivers / vision for your enterprise
I wish I could close down these schools in another ten years and no child is sent to any special school. Lack of awareness about the law (Disability act) is a grave concern. Parents and school administrators should understand that a child disinterested in studies or securing low marks in exams doesn' imply that he has learning problems. 60% of the so called 'abnormal' children are normal and have great learning capabilities. All they need is little bit of your attention and in return they will teach you how to love.