‘Prayatna’ is a very special school for special children. Prayatna, took birth in October 1997, and is the effort of three dedicated women, Nafisa Khambata, Radiya Gohil and Mridula Das, to provide training, education and a caring environment to individuals with developmental disabilities. Theirs is an all–out effort to show that “Those with mental retardation can be educated and trained. Given the right intervention, these individuals are able to define, develop and utilize their own assets and become complete human beings”. The school itself is unique in more ways than one. Travel down North Main Koregaon Road, almost upto Mundhwa and turn right into the village of Ghorpadi. There, amidst fields which abound with flowers, is Susie Villa, a bungalow which the trio have rented. The informal lay–out inside resembles a home rather than an institution and goes a long way in creating the perfect comfortable atmosphere, because Prayatna’s aim is to integrate the individuals in a home situation, teaching them basic academic skills along with functional skills to enable them to mingle socially. Four rooms cater to the four different levels of training. Bright chairs are grouped around a large table in each room and there is a kitchen for them to practice survival culinary skills. Prayatna, which started with only 6 children, was originally slated to teach only pre–vocational skills to the age group of 14 upwards. But with Bharatiya Samaj Seva Kendra, an orphanage, requesting them to take on some of their mentally challenged children, the school expanded its flexible teaching, to bring them into their warm embrace. Now with almost 30 children they have divided their programme into 4 levels. The teaching methods are extremely adaptable because as they state, “Each child is different and our aim is to develop the capabilities of each person”.
- The first is the Special Unit. These are the younger children, between 3–10 years, who were not able to do anything. Coming from the BSSK, they had severe behavioral problems, had no speech and were not even toilet–trained. Special chairs had to be made for them till they were toilet trained. These children, used only to a soft diet of dal–rice, had to be introduced to chapatti–bhaji and taught to chew for the first time. Slowly they have even learnt to pick up pieces of chapatti on their own.
- Next came the communication area speech, and then introduction to alphabets and numbers. To increase their creativity they did some craft–work in the afternoons, mostly tearing colored paper and pasting them. Two children from this group are now ready to go into the next level which is
- The Pre–Vocational Group. Here they do some basic academic work – alphabets and numbers from 1–10 and then progress to learning their names, addresses and telephone numbers. If the child is adept enough to write, he is encouraged, otherwise even verbal learning is considered sufficient. At no time is a child compelled to follow a single norm. Those who are non–verbal are taught by the Bliss Symbols (on a board) or the Rhebus Board (pictorial) or by gestures.
- This group soon progresses to higher level pre–vocational which includes more skills like awareness of surroundings and daily survival cooking. It begins first with recognition of the various vegetables, fruits and grains. They are then encouraged to wash and peel. Depending upon their motor skills, they can now cut and chop vegetables, light a gas stove and do some cooking. They usually work in pairs, which are made up in such a way that they can combine their skills and lack of a certain function in one is made up by the partner.
- The next group is the Vocational Unit. Here they learn block–printing, screen–printing, making cards and gift–wrapping paper, tie and dye and even light snacks. All these items are sold on the Open Day which is held every year at their premises.