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Two Friends Are Improving Lives of Over 1,500 Special Kids Through a Beautiful School in Dehradun

Admission into the Karuna Vihar school in Dehradun can be a life changing experience for kids with special needs and their parents. Read on to find out why.

“I am mad,” he would say, whenever anyone asked him his name. This child, suffering from Down Syndrome, was so used to people calling him mad that he had accepted the word as his name. But after a few months in the Karuna Vihar school for kids with special needs, he was able to smile and say: “I am Vishal”

Thanks to Karuna Vihar, thousands of kids like Vishal have gained confidence, are more accepted in society, and have an improved quality of life.

The school was started by Manju Singhania and Jo Mcgowan Chopra in 1996. When Jo’s daughter Moi Moi, who has cerebral palsy, could not get admission in a regular school, Jo and Manju decided to start a school on their own.

These two friends living in Dehradun started Karuna Vihar school for children with special needs with just two students.

Jo (left) and Manju, the ladies behind the initiative.
Jo (left) and Manju, the ladies behind the initiative.

Today, the school reaches out to over 1,500 students with special needs through eight amazing projects.

“It hasn’t been an easy journey so far. We used to literally go to parents and ask them to send their kids to the school. Most families are in denial; they don’t want to accept that there is something wrong with their child. That acceptance is very important,” says Manju.

The school, which initially struggled to get students, now has a waiting line for admission. Assessment centres help determine the learning level of the children. Early intervention lets the children develop in the right direction. Awareness campaigns and workshops allow parents to learn more about their children’s condition.

Counselling is provided to the children’s parents. Instead of speaking about a child’s disability, the team concentrates on the child’s strength and how this can be used to improve his/her condition.

Karuna Vihar engages students with many games and activities.

Karuna Vihar engages students with many games and activities.

“We try to show the parents that every child has some or the other quality that can be utilized for his or her benefit,” says Manju.

The team asks parents not to have unrealistic expectations of their children but to instead celebrate the small goals that the child achieves.

Regular visit to Karuna Vihar has shown tremendous positive changes in the students.
Children in the school have a new found confidence.

“How can a kid run if he can’t even sit properly right now? So we talk to the parents and ask them to set their expectations right before setting small goals,” she says.

The school is also focusing on employment of adults with special needs. It provides various life skills and vocational training workshops.

Karuna Vihar's intervention is personalized as per a child's need.
Karuna Vihar’s intervention is personalized as per a child’s need.

Sakshi is one such student with Down Syndrome who joined Karuna Vihar as a kid. She is now 21 and heads the housekeeping department of a big hostel in Dehradun.

Karuna Vihar has a large team of 90, which includes teachers, therapists and other staff. The school is now trying to work with the local community and get more people on board.

“There are so many young graduates who are not working. We want to get all such adults to come work with us,” says Manju.

Karuna Vihar also acts as a resource centre for training teachers to work with children with special needs.

The school charges nominal fee from those who can afford.
The school charges nominal fees from those who can afford to pay.

Manju and Jo have worked very hard to make Karuna Vihar a success. There were many initial hurdles — lack of funds, reluctant parents unwilling to send their wards to school, not getting the right staff, etc.

Now, the school runs with donations and charges nominal fees from those who can afford to pay. Many children from economically poor backgrounds study here free of cost.

In the future, Manju and Jo want to get their own building and take in more students. They are also willing to train teachers from other organisations.

Physical exercise is an important part of Karuna Vihar.
Physical exercise is an important part of Karuna Vihar.

If you want to help Manju and Jo, you can arrange transport for the kids, or sponsor the salary of a staff member, or pay the fees of a student. You can also volunteer at the school. Karuna Vihar is also looking for speech and occupational therapists.

To know more about Karuna Vihar, check out this website.

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