Disabilities are sometimes invisible, but the struggles are real. 

“Salamat Raho” an initiative by the Nomadlawyer recognizes Dilkhush School, which is empowering special children with disabilities and schooling them for brighter tomorrow. Providing these kids with perseverance and courage that no disability can steal away.  This blog we will highlight the inspiring story of a school for specially abled children in India, Dilkhush school

What is DISABILITY?

Let us hear what some famous personalities felt about Disabilities.

“Disability is a matter of perception. If you can do just one thing well, you’re needed by someone.” -Martina Navratilova

“Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” –Theodore Roosevelt

Person With Intellectual Disabilities (PWID)

For years intellectual disabilities (ID) have been shrugged off, often the person termed as ‘stupid’ or ‘mad’ as societies have failed to understand and accept persons with disabilities into their fold. Families have been broken, relationships strained and fingers have been pointed endlessly and accusingly; repeatedly lending to shame and degradation of ‘Person With Intellectual Disabilities’ (PWID) and their familial support system.

It is time we face reality and discuss the issue of disabilities openly, at home, in schools etc so that people accept it as a normal medical condition and these people should be treated as equals and given normal rights to be part of the mainstream population. 

Hard things are put in our way, not to stop us, but to call out our courage and strength.

Yes, there are genuinely courageous people trying to do the same and working hard to bring light into such people’s lives. Dilkhush school and its team are one such angel team who are a Godsend for hundreds of such children. 

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 The idea got initiated- angels arrived

The Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus  is a Roman Catholic religious institute that was founded in Madrid, Spain, in 1877 by two sisters, María Dolores and Raphaela Maria Porras y Ayllon. Rafaela Maria became its first superior general in 1877 and in the same year, the congregation received papal approval. The focus of the institute is on “children’s education and helping at retreats”, reflected in its 130 convents in 27 countries, and the number of schools that it has founded.

In 1968, when four nuns from the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart, landed in India, there was much trepidation, firstly as foreigners in a land where the culture was different, and secondly from what was expected of them. They soon learnt of the need for educational services for those unable to fit into the traditional mainstream schools. Being educationists, they understood the fundamental need of every child to be productive members in society. 

With India on the cusp of change from an agrarian to an industrial society and the shift from rural to urban; the only services available in Mumbai for those with the ‘invisible’ intellectual disabilities was a centre started by Mr. & Mrs. Hormusjee Vakeel in 1944 for their daughter Dina. So, Sisters Celia, Dolores, Josephine and Catherine trained with Mrs. Shroff, Mrs. Vakeel sister, to educate children with ID. 

The struggle started

It was immediately understood that in order to gain acceptance, services for PwID need to be educated not in the fringes of the city but within the city. The sisters purchased a bungalow in Juhu named ‘Dilkhush’. Once they realised that it meant a ‘Happy Heart’ they retained the name and Dilkhush Special School opened their doors to 15 students in 1971. Sr. Celia was the first Principal. The school initially faced the uphill task of calming the neighbourhood that ID is not a communicable disease and therefore the children did not pose a threat to them.  With the establishment of the school, the first task on the list of community engagement was met; the hidden were in the forefront. Soon the school expanded and as the number of children who enrolled increased, the school needed teachers, so under the guidance of Sr. Dolores, the Principal at the time, the Teachers’ Training Centre was established and conducted a course on prevalent pedagogical practices and therapeutics. It was also at this time that the need for services post school was recognised. To fulfil this need, Dilkhush Sheltered Workshop was established in 1975. 

The journey 

Soon Dilkhush blossomed into a name synonymous with ID education and empowerment. The courses offered by the TTC were then given recognition under the Rehabilitation Council of India. 

Today, the school is still managed by the Handmaids of The Sacred Heart, and continues to break new ground in the field of special education especially in fostering awareness and a sense of empathy in the larger community. In School, not only are the students trained in functional academic skills but also in self-care, communication, social skills and motoric functions as well as vocational skills to be productive members of society. The school currently has 100 students grouped according to ability in 12 classes guided by skilfully trained special educators. The school now boasts of a well-maintained therapeutic centre for physical and occupational therapy; a Computer Lab to introduce, support and encourage e-learning to support classroom practices and learn new skills in vocational, recreation and social media. Healthy bodies and healthy minds also are at the helm of all our activities, Sports and recreational skills have always been an integral part of curriculum. 

The school has had many representatives at the national and international level of the Special Olympics.

 Besides school life, the children are taught social and coping skills in their natural environment that sees excursion and field trips to markets, bus depots, neighbouring schools, supermarkets, metro and train stations and travel, visits to hotels and restaurants and their kitchens, etc. the students are also taken for week long trips to Hyderabad and Goa. These visits are multi-faceted arrangements as the children get an exposure to their environment as well the larger community witness the true gift that are these children.  

Furthermore, the sheltered workshop also provides meaningful employment to young adults with disabilities in four departments: Papercraft, Needle-craft, Home Science and Woodworks. The Workshop continues to employ about 50 young adults and have continuous health and social sessions for these young adults and their parents. They also conduct outreach programmes within the community and conduct sales of the articles curated and handcrafted by the workshop. A much anticipated Christmas sale of the handcrafted items is held every December. 

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Training school for those will train to teach

In their continuing endeavour to provide quality education, the Teachers’ Training Centre affiliated to the RCI, India offers a diploma in Special Education with a speciality in Intellectual Disabilities, certificate courses for care-givers, shadow teachers and mainstreaming teachers; Support and Counselling sessions for parents and siblings of PwID, Refresher courses in current practices and innovative pedagogical techniques, health and government policies directly impacting PwID.

The results of these efforts are evident in the lives of the school’s alumni. For instance, some of them have secured gainful employment in the hospitality sector at hotels such as JW Marriott, The Leela and few Flight Kitchens. Many of their alumni from the TTC are employed and manage schools and workshops in India and the world over. 

Covid frontline fighters faced it together at Dilkhush.

The pandemic has already altered mode through which they engage with all; children, trainees and young adults. It has had its own share of trials and triumphs. Beating all odd ten young achievers of the Senior class completed their level A Pratham exams in the online mode. 

However, this year promises to be like no other, keeping all the COVID-19 guidelines in mind, Dilkhush has many interesting projects lined up to commemorate 50 years of its existence: An International Seminar on disability conducted by the TTC; a grand sale of articles handcrafted and curated by the young adults at Dilkhush Sheltered Workshop; a celebration of Dilkhush with the entire Dilkhush Family of students, staff and trainees both past and present, parents and well-wishers.  

Future projects in pipeline

To continue with their on-going endeavour of Inclusion of PwID into every arena of life, the school has a lot of projects in the pipeline: The establishment of an Autism Centre; outreach programmes to raise awareness; counselling centre for Parents and Siblings; A shift to a greener and ecologically balanced school with the adoption of rain water harvesting, and solar powered school etc. The school already has a composting and garden nursery and looks forward to expanding it further to make it a viable option for gainful employment and also to serve the neighbourhood. Maintenance of the existing building and painting. 

Dilkhush has indeed come a long way from its humble beginnings. Though the journey has had its share of jubilations and celebrations it still continues to face its uphill task of educating the children and society at large about intellectual disabilities and the possibilities; and to empower PwID to truly partake in society. They hope you can join in for the joyride, Dilkhush has truly touched people and helped them to grow.

If we have more such genuine dedicated soul searching frontline workers in the field of education and ID, the world will become a happier place to live for many more who are specially abled to create history someday. 

To sum up

 Keep your face always toward the sunshine – and shadows will fall behind you. A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles. Each student of Dilkhush School and every teacher is a hero in my eyes and they deserve every accolade possible from the rest of us who have it all, but just cannot see it or feel gratitude. 

Team NomadLawyer salutes every student and teacher of Dilkhush School!