Mansi and Abhishek started Happy Feet Home, the first hospice for children in India, a place which fills happiness in the lives of kids with terminal illnesses. “If a child has just a week left to live, we make sure that it is the happiest week of his or her life,” says the Happy Feet team. Know more about their heartwarming work.
Here’s the story of a boy being mentored by Happy Feet Home. Know what they are all about through Tarun’s eyes:
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Akash (name changed), a 16-year old boy is HIV positive with barely any chances of survival. The disease has made him weak and dull. Last time he attended school was when he was in sixth grade.
He lost both his parents some time back and started staying with his relatives. His weak health did not permit him to attend a school regularly. Waking up late in the afternoon, going out and spending time aimlessly only to return at night to sleep was what his regular day looked like. He had gone into a shell and did not interact much with anyone.
This lifestyle took a complete turn when he first went to Happy Feet Home, India’s first children’s hospice. “He now comes here at sharp 10 in the morning, talks to other children and has even invited us to his house. He has started taking responsibilities and wants to learn new things. He is more active and happier now. The huge positive change in his attitude has been a delight to watch,” says Mansi Shah, co-founder, Happy Feet Home.
There are thousands of children like Akash who suffer from terminal diseases like cancer, HIV, etc. They have little or no hope of getting cured and living a normal life. When the child and his or her entire family are grief-struck, there is a place that is filling a little happiness in their lives. This is Happy Feet Home, a place which is a fun-filled shelter to many such children who have little or no time left to live.
Started by Abhishek Tatiya and Mansi Shah, Happy Feet Home aims to provide a healthy and happy environment to children suffering from terminal diseases. As per a report by International Association for Hospice & Palliative Care, over 400,000 children in India need palliative care. Shah and Tatiya are making the bitter reality of fast approaching death a tad less sad and scary for these children by providing a space where they can come and play with other kids, have tons of activities to keep them occupied, participate in therapy and counseling sessions to help them cope with their maladies – all this in a safe and vibrant environment, free of cost!
“Happy Feet Home is not a place for dying people. It is a place to celebrate life and fill happiness in the lives of these young ones,” says Mansi.
Shah had around nine years of experience in the social sector as she worked with various NGOs. When she was working with St. Jude India ChildCare Centre for children fighting cancer, she realized that there are hardly any places or centres for children suffering from terminal diseases in India. She then met Tatiya who had quit his job after working in the corporate sector for five years.
“We were both talking about the situation and we came up with the idea of setting up a place like this. There are many places that cater to the needs of terminally ill patients. But they accommodate both children as well as adults,” Shah says. “Children’s needs are different from adults and there was no place specifically catering to the needs of such children in India. That is when we decided that this is something we have to do,” she adds.
The uniqueness of the idea necessitated a lot of research. Both the co-founders visited many hospitals and other hospices to see how they worked and what all resources were needed. Finally, India’s first hospice for children was set up in Sion in Mumbai six months ago and started with an intake of 35 children on August 14, 2014.
“The idea is to make the last days of these children as happy as possible. Even if one has just a week to live, we want to make sure that it is the happiest week of his or her life,” says Shah.
The team of five that consists of Shah and Tatiya also includes a nurse, therapists, a housekeeper and interns along with several volunteers who work with them on and off. Happy Feet Home basically focuses on five things:
Activities: Several recreational and interesting activities are planned by the team of professionals to engage the kids. Various props, toys and games are a crucial part of the activities which also help the child to mingle with other children and spend some quality time.
Therapies: Various art, dance and music therapies are an important part of this day-care hospice. These therapies impart a sense of enthusiasm among the children and make them forget their pain as they spend several hours here.
Counselling: It is one of the most crucial services provided by the Happy Feet Home team. Counselling is not restricted to kids alone but is also extended to the family and caregivers to help them cope with the situation and be strong in dealing with grief.
Respite Care – This allows a parent to take some time off and relax, knowing that their child is in safe hands and is well taken care of.
Bereavement Support – This is extended to the grieving families after the child leaves the world. It helps them to cope with the loss and move on in life
“When such news breaks, the entire family goes into a state of grief and sadness. Everyone gives up hope including doctors, the patient and the family. These children have a right to spend their last days with maximum happiness, no matter how long they are going to live,” says Mansi.
Happy Feet Home has tied up with various experts and hospitals to provide quality psycho-social help to these children.
The duo met Dr. Mamta Manglani, Head of Paediatrics at Sion Hospital, who helped them form a partnership with the hospital. Doctors from Sion Hospital have been providing constant support to the team a space in which to operate. Another person they wish to acknowledge is Dr. Muckaden, HoD of Palliative Care Department at Tata Memorial Hospital, who has been providing excellent guidance as the Happy Feet Home team keeps going back to her with all their queries.
Happy Feet Home has managed to spread happiness in the lives of around 85 children so far and they aim to reach out to many more in the future.
“We have children as young as 2 to 4 years old. While they cry and feel restless in hospitals, there are smiles and laughter on their faces as soon as they enter Happy Feet Home. This validation of the change in attitude of these kids is something which keeps us going,” says the duo.
Like any startup, Happy Feet Home too saw its share of challenges. With lack of funds to the uniqueness of the idea that posed several hurdles, the team had to struggle to build everything from scratch.
“We were working with children who were not motivated at all. They had no reason to smile. So, it was important for us to get staff who can manage to remain charged and enthusiastic at all times,” says Mansi.
Happy Feet is a young organization and soon will be registered as a trust with seven trustees including various experts and professionals.
Happy Feet Home is much more than just a hospice. It is a centre of hope and happiness. And as rightly said by the team, “It is not a place for dying; it is a place for celebrating life.”
Organizations like this restore our faith in humanity and gives us an assurance that nothing, not even death, can take away the happiness every child deserves.
For more information, please visit their website.