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21st March is celebrated as World Down’s Syndrome Day. It is quite subtle to understand why it is celebrated on 21st March – The 21st day of March (the 3rd month of the year) signifies the uniqueness of the triplication (trisomy) of the 21st chromosome which causes Down’s syndrome…No wonder this is the time of the year I get a plethora of thoughts rambling in my mind…

This march marks 10 years of our “Return to India (R2I)” from Houston, USA…One of the reasons for our return was Shlok’s diagnosis as borderline (?) Down’s syndrome. Back then, we had a few of our friends question our decision about R2I considering there is better social acceptance and educational infrastructure for special children back in the USA. Since Shlok did not have any acute health condition and with better family support in India, our hypothesis of India being the preferred place for Shlok’s upbringing has turned out correct …at least so far so good J

It is quite an interesting journey and very encouraging to see how the overall ecosystem for PwDs (Persons with Disabilities) has been evolving in India. While deciding about R2I, we had searched online for the support system available in India for Down’s syndrome. Dr Chopade from Nasik and Dr Rekha Ramchandran from Chennai were a couple of people who had helped us with good support in those early days. Since then, we as families of special individuals have come a long way and it is very encouraging to see growing awareness within the community. Thanks to special educators, NGOs & special families, who have been contributing positively with helping parents to accept the diagnosis. The eco-system is creating enabling environment wherein parents could help their kids reach their fullest potential – whatever it could be!!!

There are many Trusts & NGOs in Pune as well as other parts of the country such as Down Syndrome Federation of India (DSFI), Down’s Syndrome Care Association (Nasik), Prism Foundation (Pune), Nayi Disha (Prachi Deo, Hyderabad), Support All-Abled Differently (Sunita Lele, SaaD-Pune), SwaSaksham (Dr. Nina Vaidya) and so on. All these organizations along with various parent support groups (at least in metro cities!) have been doing commendable work and enriching the overall support network for special families.

Back in 2013, I had met Mr Subhash ji Chuttar in Pune who has successfully employed more than 40 mentally challenged individuals in his factory which manufactured automobile pressed components. He took enormous efforts to train those individuals. It was very inspiring to see the deep compassion he holds for PwDs (person with disabilities) and then lead the way for other industries to follow. He said, “The biggest advantage of mentally challenged people is that they are extremely disciplined, focused and not easily distracted. They are so motivated that they want to work on holidays too”. Corporates are slowly realizing that PwDs tends to stay longer in their companies due to a deep sense of loyalty. It is very heartening to see a social change of better awareness and acceptance in bigger companies. Some corporates like Lemon Tree hotels has taken an initiative to hire PwD in their workforce which turned out to be a win-win scenario for all. (https://meaningful.business/how-indias- lemon-tree-hotels-has-embraced-disability-inclusion-to-tackle-the-challenges-of-recruitment-and- retention-in-the-hospitality-sector/).

Recently, I have come across a wonderful person, Ms Dipttie Acherya. She owns a garment factory where 5 PwDs are working equally hard along with the other 16 team members. Dipttie is a fashion designer and manufactures kids-wear with a brand name, Rose Couture. It takes immense commitment and patience to work with special individuals. When I asked her, “Generally things are super-competitive in the business world, especially for small businesses, why did she choose to go out of her way to hire special individuals?” Her immediate reply was, “I always wanted to build an organization with purpose along with numbers. As a fashion designer at heart- as a creative soul, she strives to bring her creativity to life and definitely make profits but at the same time giving back to society as responsibility is the utmost important value that she likes her organization to lead by.

The next thing she mentioned was just amazing – “If I sensitize my 20 people, they will, in turn, sensitize 20 more and this is the chain I want to build. I take pride in saying that it is not about giving opportunities to these candidates (PwDs); for me, it is completely the opposite. To give my team an opportunity to understand how you got to be emotionally sensitive and appreciate how blessed we (normal people) are! Now having these team members have completely changed the entire team’s outlook to life. I don’t have a complaining kind of environment around me. Today my team is more compassionate and feels gratitude in small things; especially, for their physical & mental capabilities”.

Diptiie suggested talking to some of her team members and hearing first-hand accounts of experiences. I spoke with 3 ladies in her group and they shared openly that in the beginning, it was a bit difficult to communicate with these individuals (3 Hearing-impaired and 2 Down’s syndrome); but slowly they figured out how to work with them. It surely took a few months; but now, these individuals light up the environment with their positivity and genuine happiness. One of the team- members, Ms Mayuri mentioned, earlier she always feared how to handle any new person who is “not normal” in some way. But now she takes efforts and initiative to understand such individuals outside of the work environment as well. Finally, Dipttie said her organization is striving to build a better tomorrow in a small way and it is quite evident from her equally-spirited team too…

I remember Kevin Spacey & Helen Hunt starred Hollywood movie – “Pay it Forward”. The movie had social drama in the plot. The movie begins with a 7th grader (Haley Joel Osment) in Las Vegas. His social studies teacher assigns the class to put into action a plan that will change the world for the better. This high-school kid calls his plan “pay it forward”, which means the recipient of a favour does a favour for three others rather than paying it back…

So as a society or at the very least, in the eco-system of special families, should we also resolve to contribute to Building a Better Tomorrow; in some little way; by PAYING IT FORWARD …

____________________________________________________________________________________________ 

Sachin Jakhotia, Bavdhan, Pune (India)

 I would love to hear your comments and suggestions. Please contact on 8308879900 / shlok.ability@gmail.com. Also, visit my Blogspot to read more articles on https://shlokabiity.blogspot.com

 Contact Details for Diptiie Acherya –

 Address:-Bavdhan, Pune (India)

Website:- https://www.rosecouturekidz.com Email:- info@rosecouturekidz.com

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