“Oh my God! Look at that boy flapping like a duck!” said a young girl to her mother. “Don’t look at him, it’s a tragedy that God has made such children,” her mother replied back. With that, the pair hurriedly walked past the flapping child, 18 year old Shivam. Shivam Ramani was born a normal child, but at the age of 3, he came down with typhoid and was struck by a rare but possible consequence of the infection which left Shivam autistic and non-verbal.
Bobby, Juhi, and Shivam are siblings. They were born and brought up in Rae Bareli, a small town in Uttar Pradesh. They were brought up by their mother single handedly since their father had passed away when they were young.
Juhi tells us more. “We lived together in an extended family. But Shivam’s odd behaviours of spitting and flapping met us with harsh eyes, they not only treated us badly but looked at my brother like he was no human. We remained strangers in family functions and in most cases uninvited, for they believed that Shivam will be a nuisance with his typical behavioural issues.”
“I remember all the hard days spent in that small town with people having no knowledge about autism and about what Shivam was going through.” Bobby, Juhi and their mother kept looking for schools that understood and catered to the needs of autistic children but found none. With family support barely there and no development plans for autistic kids in RaeBareli schools, they moved to Lucknow so that Shivam could get enrolled in a special school.
In 2014, Bobby founded a small school for autistic children in Lucknow, providing them an environment for healthy development. Juhi joined as co-founder and later, it became a registered non-profit NGO called ‘I Support Foundation’ that works closely with underprivileged and special children’s education. The aim is to help these children reach their highest potential, by supporting them and providing them with a platform to showcase their talent.
According to Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 1 in every 88 children born is autistic, this number was 1 in 110, a couple of years back.
“Just like Shivam there must be other children who are in the same, or worse, situation. Rather than ignoring the problem, my sister and I thought of reaching out to society through the I Support Foundation. We are the younger generation of our society and we can make a difference by believing that we are the ones who build the future.”
The school in Lucknow supports the education of 45 children, and they hold workshops in Bangalore in government schools and orphanages. With her sister taking care of the Lucknow centre, Juhi along with her full time job at Wipro, Bangalore has started activities in Bangalore for the underprivileged. They are now 100 volunteers strong in Bangalore. “We have reached out to 8,000 underprivileged and special children till date”, says Juhi.
Development of children with special needs – the programme focuses on holistic development of a child, balancing the needs and the potential of the child. “Functional academics are imparted with parallel intervention with allied therapies depending on the needs of the child which are assessed through special educator, psychologist, and speech, according to their functional level. While setting the goals, the family needs are given priority. After every three month each child’s progress is assessed and on basis of performance short-term goals are delineated for the next quarter”, says Juhi. Teachers and parents are equal stakeholders in this process – they come together and discuss how the child is doing at school and home. Parents are called at regular intervals to observe their children in the classroom.
Empowering underprivileged children– The foundation also examines children’s condition in slums and collect data from neglected areas about the number of children enrolled in school. They shun gender and caste-based discrimination, child labor, and dropping out from school by educating communities about the importance of education and making them aware about existing laws and policies in India.
I Support Foundation has hosted an array of events and workshops.
Hifazat ‘Protecting the Precious’ – are a series of workshops on awareness and confrontation of child abuse, awareness on autism campaigns and development plans.
Workshop on Awareness about Autism, Lucknow – involves early intervention of Autism, special counselling for parents, learning chart and development plan creation
Robotics Lego sessions for developing logical reasoning and building social development skills in special and underprivileged kids.
Free Medical checkup and Blood Donation – Emphasis on child development and it’s relation with adequate nutrition. The blood donation drive was in Victoria Hospital, Bangalore.
‘A Cup for Thought’– a ‘kulhad’(earthen cup) tea stall visit each weekend in BTM Layout Bangalore to raise funds for their cause.
Click-O-Click (Themed Eradication of Child Labour) – Activity for volunteers to observe and capture the real life picture with the theme – End child labour and importance of education.
I Support Foundation is not funded but any government or non-government body at the moment. Juhi’s next inclusion to I Support Foundation is inspired from her family’s struggle again. She’s building a platform that will serve as a knowledge pool for parents of autistic children.“It’s just a beginning for us; it’s a long cherished dream, an infinite march for welfare and rehabilitation.” Juhi quotes Gandhi, and says, “Strength doesn’t come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.”