‘Many Families Abandon Them’: Agra Man Builds Home for 75 Kids with Disabilities

Moved by the plight of a mother on the verge of abandoning her disabled child, special educator Anil Joseph from Agra decided to shelter the baby, which became instrumental for him to start an NGO and a shelter for children.

Anil Joseph knew from a very young age that he would do something to give back to society. So, when he completed his diploma in special education in 2002, he started looking for the right opportunity.

He started working with an NGO called Deva International Society as a special educator. On a visit to a private clinic in Agra, he came across a woman holding her baby, who had a disability. He immediately recognised the baby’s condition.

“I talked to the mother. She told me that the baby’s condition was becoming an issue in the family. Her husband threatened to leave her and if he did, she would have nowhere to go. My heart ached for the poor child, who had no fault in all this. The mother was even considering abandoning the child,” Anil tells The Better India.

This is when he decided to give shelter to this baby. Soon, word spread and two more parents landed at his doorstep seeking help with their disabled children. And so, Vishal, Devi and Om became his first wards.

In 2005, Anil opened an NGO by the name ‘Integrated Institute of Rehabilitation for the Disabled’, catering to children with mental and physical disabilities. Today, he has over 72 wards living in his shelter home called ‘Ashray’.

Various programmes designed to offer life skills

“When I started, there were no such NGOs in the city. Whenever a child was born with a developmental disability, most people viewed and treated them like outcasts. And in the later years, they were treated as a burden to their families,” says Anil.

He continues, “I knew from the very first instance that this is my path. I rented a small building in Shahganj in Agra, but soon, it started filling up with more and more children. I then eventually moved to a bigger place and have been there since.”

Anil says that they have children with different disabilities like Down Syndrome, genetic conditions, birth defects, etc, coming from rural areas near Agra and Ghaziabad.

The NGO has children different disabilities like down syndrome, genetic conditions, birth defects etc. Picture credit: Anil Joseph

Explaining the various programmes offered by the NGO, he says, “We conduct their IQ test and then fix them in different programmes according to their results. Children with no physical disabilities are put into our vocational programme, which keeps them engaged and active while learning life skills.”

He continues, “For example, some kids make donna (bowls made out of dried leaves), which also helps them gain better hand-eye coordination. There is also an RO water plant in our NGO, and our kids sell the purified water; some even do home deliveries under the guidance of a caretaker.”

“Then there are other children who do not have an IQ fit for such jobs; some are not even able to drink water on their own and need special attention and therapies — we have a separate programme for them. We conduct regular counselling, speech therapy and physiotherapy as per the child’s needs,” he explains.

Talking about the challenges faced, Anil says, “It can be difficult to handle the wards, as they sometimes get agitated at the smallest inconvenience. So, we cannot have more than five children in one class. Sometimes we spend months just teaching them to hold a pencil. We regularly test their IQ levels and try to enrol them in different classes so they learn basic life skills and get educated.”

Today, the organisation has seven special educators along with 18 staff members which include drivers, helpers, and cooks. They also have regular visits from doctors, physiotherapists and psychologists.

‘This becomes their home for life’

“The kids who come to us do not really leave, because the issue they have is not an illness but a condition to live with. So, this has become their home for life, as they feel safe and loved here,” he shares.

He currently has a shelter home called ‘Ashray’ and has also purchased land in Digner (outskirts of Agra) to provide a more open space for the children.

Father of two, 38-year-old Anil feels responsible for all children with disabilities. His first wards — Vishal, Devi and Om, still live with him and are in their mid-20s now.

“The most difficult question that parents have asked me and I have asked myself is — ‘What happens to the children when we die?’. These children who are treated as outcasts by their own families and are incapable of even eating food by themselves cannot be left to fend for themselves. When the parents or guardians of such children die, they suffer neglect, and that is why I feel the role we play is very important. I hope to shelter them for as long as I live,” he says.

If you wish to help Anil in his cause, you can reach him at 90585 96091.

Edited by Pranita Bhat

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