Albert Schweitzer, a world renowned Theologian once said that "The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion & the will to help others." At a tender age of 17, when most of us are still figuring out what to do with our lives, Anjali Shah began volunteering at Dr. A. V. Mehta’s School for People with Special Needs in Mumbai (Maharashtra, India). Little did she know that beginning with this volunteering experience, she had embarked on a life journey dedicated to the cause of people with special needs.
On her first day at volunteering, she met a mute boy suffering with Cerebral Palsy, who was seated on the ground with a plate of puffed rice before him. He picked up a handful of the snack to eat, however a severe lack of eye-hand coordination & restricted motor movements were a deterrent and he dropped all of it with trembling hands. Just as Anjali moved forward to help him, he immediately signaled with his hands for her to not to do so. With great pride in his eyes he tried again, and this time although most of the puffed rice fell back in the plate, he managed to put some in his mouth. He looked at her and smiled with a sense of achievement. That very moment changed Anjali’s life forever and she was resolute that one day she will dedicate her life to the service of such specially gifted people.
Post completing her B. Ed. in Special Education, Anjali moved on to work at Dilkhush Special School in Mumbai. During her time at the Dilkhush Special School, she started Art & Craft as well as Cooking Sessions, which continue to run successfully till date. After a phenomenal stint of 8 years at Dilkhush, Anjali had to move out due to personal commitments. Some of her children found it unsettling to be without their favourite teacher. Though it pained her because of the bond that she had created & nurtured with her children over the past few years, she decided that it was definitely not going to end there.
In the August of 2000, Anjali founded Advitya, a creative centre for those gifted with conditions like Down’s syndrome, Autism and Cerebral Palsy among others. One of her old students from the Dilkhush Special School was her first admission at Advitya.
The underpinning aim that Advitya set out with, was to provide meaning to the lives of children with special needs
"The underpinning aim that Advitya set out with, was to provide meaning to the lives of people with special needs who are above the age of 18 and can no longer continue in special needs’ schools because they are either too old or have severe behavioral disorders", says Vallari, who currently works as a Chief Catalyst at Advitya. "Our vision is to foster compassion, kindness and inclusion in the world", Vallari tells us.
Take a look at the Advitya centre, here:
Over the past 17 years, Advitya has given a creative lease to scores of individuals with developmental disorders like Down’s syndrome, Autism and Cerebral Palsy among others. They are trained to add value to handicraft products which have become a statement to the world that these individuals are not disabled but are capable of creating pieces of craft of unmatched quality.
Spreading Smiles - A picture from Advitya's 17th Birthday Celebrations at the centre
Programmes at Advitya
With their operations currently set up in Mumbai (Maharashtra, India), Anjali & team have developed various modules for the purpose of recreation and certain developmental therapies for her students (currently 25 in number) through dance, music, yoga, pottery, gardening, story-telling, DIY (Do It Yourself) activities as well as a host of indoor and outdoor games, with the aim to ensure a holistic approach to their mental and physical well-being.
Advitya has involved Self Help Groups of slum women and a number of senior citizens in the cause, thereby leading to a manifold impact on society.
The primary activity at the centre is imparting vocation to people with special needs in the field of handicrafts. These students are given extremely fine & intricate craft work which helps in channelizing their energies constructively and keeping their attention focused on the task at hand. This disciplined hard work eventually results in finished products with impeccable perfection and unmatched quality. Their expertise lies in enhancing a host of lifestyle and utility items, ideal for personal use as well as gifting purposes.
Students and Volunteers engrossed in making diyas ahead of Diwali
Rhythm and Movement
The folks at Advitya use make extensive use of music and dance as developmental therapies. They have trained dance instructors who visit the centre to teach the students a variety of dance forms like folk, film and fusion. In addition to this, they practice Yoga as a form of exercise & recreation. They have been able to witness the significant impact that dance & yoga have on the confidence of the students, facilitating a free movement and acting as an aid to a healthy lifestyle for these students.
Students participate in a fun-filled Yoga session conducted at Advitya ahead of the Yoga Day 2017
Indoor and Outbound Activities
Indoor recreation activities such as board games are an integral part of Advitya's alternate therapy plans and recreational modules. Advitya believes that these activities enhance & nurture their curiosity, analytical skills, problem solving ability and moulds them to become team players. The students are sometimes treated to movie outings in theatre houses, day long outings or overnight picnics with the aim to enhance their social skills, facilitate their growth in an environment away from home and sensitize other people about those blessed with special needs.
A glimpse from one of the CSR activities conducted at Advitya
In addition to the above mentioned programmes, they carry out a variety of volunteering programs, CSR initiatives, fund raisers, and community sensitization & other awareness campaigns to ensure that the minority communities they serve get as much a chance of dignified living as anyone else.
At the centre of everything that Advitya does is the goal to create acceptance and inclusion of people with special needs. In the near future, they plan on expanding to various parts of Mumbai and eventually set up a residential home for their beneficiaries.
Along the way Advitya wishes to reach out to as many people and groups as possible, so as to educate them about Intellectual and Developmental disabilities.
How can you contribute?
Advitya has opportunities to intern and volunteer for people looking to apply. They are also open to sponsorship, donation and corporate collaborations.
If you wish to apply, you can find out more related information on their website, here:
For any queries/questions, you can reach out to Advitya here:
Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Head Office Address: Plot No. 2, New Saket, next to Indian Bank, near Sarla Hospital, opp. Varista, Tagore road, Santacruz (west), Mumbai - 400054
Pictures courtesy: www.advitya.com
If you like this story, do share and spread the word. More stories to follow! :)