On Sunday, 30,000 runners will gather to complete the inaugural San Antonio Rock n Roll Marathon and Half Marathon. As the excitement and anxiety build, I keep reminding myself why I'm doing this - I'm running to help raise money for Asha, a non-profit dedicated to supporting education programs for kids in India.
In my second year on Team Asha, I've decided to devote my fundraising to one project in particular. That project is the Shristi Special Academy. Here's one student's story, as written by my teammate Vinod. I hope this offers insight into why I'm doing all this.
This story starts with a little girl named Deepthi.
An active and alert seven-year-old, Deepthi loves solving puzzles and playing with her friends. Like any other seven year old, she loves being the center of attraction in her class and takes a leading role in participating and initiating activities in her peer group.
What you will find remarkable is the change the past few years have brought about in her.
A history of birth asphyxia and seizures had left Deepthi weak and small for her age. Delayed development milestones meant that she was unable to chew or swallow – she was on milk even at the age of three. A history of hyper ammonia syndrome resulted in a very monotonous diet, which further contributed to her weakness. She couldn't walk or talk or localize visually. Her future looked bleak at best.
This was when her parents brought her to Shristi, in November 1998.
Shristi is a non-profit society, established in 1995 by 3 special educators with a vision to reach out to individuals with special needs. With unique programs designed to enable independence among the Mentally Challenged, Developmentally Delayed and those with Autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, Shristi reaches out to all age groups. It remains among the few institutions which caters to infants and even the severely retarded across urban and rural communities.
The rehabilitation of those coming to Shristi includes therapeutic intervention with a focus on special education, sensory stimulation, physiotherapy and language stimulation.
Through an intensive, individualized and child-focused training program, Shristi has enabled many young children with developmental delays to go to normal schools, setting them on the path towards a more normal life. Several older individuals have gained employment enabling life-changing happiness.
Deepthi joined on one such special Early Intervention program in November 1998. The primary goal of her program was to ensure better nutrition and feeding practices, as this was the major problem faced by her mother. Special emphasis was also given to helping her catch up with her motor milestones, primary among them being walking.
Today at 7 years, although she still has seizures, which are controlled by medication, she has learned to walk, communicate through single words and gestures and take part in all activities of the class. She eats with minimal help under supervision and is on a toilet schedule to help streamline her bladder movements and achieve better levels of normalcy. She is receiving occupational therapy for her hand functions and through speech therapy will achieve better levels of communication.
Asha Austin's role is to help Shristi find suitable educators for various domains: Mental retardation, Autism and Vocational Training.
These educators are specialized to handle mentally challenged and autistic children at Shristi. Then Asha endeavors to find sponsors for these teachers and facilitates linking sponsors with them. Asha follows through by disbursing and monitoring the sponsors' funds. It works with both sponsors and Shristi in India to obtain regular progress reports of the children handled by the teachers and build a strong sponsor-teacher communication. The sponsor can also arrange a visit to Shristi through Asha and the project coordinators in India.
This program makes it possible for an individual to sponsor partial or full cost of supporting one teacher at Shristi Special Academy. The teachers at Shristi are special educators trained to work with mentally challenged and autistic children. We believe retaining educators in the system is the way to sustain education, particularly in the context of special education. Committed though they are, supporting these educators financially is a necessary part of retaining them within the system. One can become a sponsor for a teacher at Shristi for as little as $20 a month.
More details about Asha's support with Shristi can be found here.
Please donate any amount you can. The ongoing success of the Shristi Special Academy depends on you!