Bal Asha Trust is a not-for-profit organisation that was founded in October 1985 in Mumbai. For the past 31 years, it has rehabilitated more than 1,500 destitute/abandoned children from various parts of Maharashtra.
A year ago, they opened a Child Development Centre (CDC) for children with developmental disabilities from across the state.
Three people who run the organisation from their own property established the Trust. The director of Bal Asha spoke with TBI.
Sunil Arora, who oversees daily affairs at Bal Asha, first heard of the Trust when his mother fostered some children that Bal Asha had housed in its adoption centre. He says, “I started visiting Bal Asha when I was 12 and they approved of us as a foster family.” Subsequently, Sunil started volunteering at the organisation to spend some time with the children and do minor administrative work in the office. “I realised I like being responsible for the welfare of so many children and making them happy, so instead of making a career in the finance industry, I started working with Bal Asha,” he added.
So what makes Bal Asha different from the many child care and adoption centres in Mumbai?
Sunil says, “What struck me when I was working here even as a teenager was the amount of individual attention paid to each child. We look after destitute children with diseases and chalk out a treatment plan for them. There are medical, educational and rehabilitation programmes for all children. These children with medical issues and disabilities are put up for adoption and potential adoptive parents are encouraged to take them home so that they get integrated into a family support system.”
A year ago, the Child Development Centre, which is one of Bal Asha’s most popular initiatives, was a community clinic for people living nearby. While the areas around it were being redeveloped, the organisation realised that they needed to address a pressing issue related to children after renovating the community clinic. The director says, “We realised that most children who are abandoned on the streets are deserted because of their medical problems. So, we did a little research, first around South Mumbai to find facilities for children with disabilities. These facilities were being provided in private and government hospitals. If your child is not speaking despite being over two years old, you can bring him/her to one of the private hospitals and you’ll realize that they charge anything between Rs. 8,000-10,000 for a single assessment. And in government hospitals, the waiting lists are so long that if you make an appointment right now, you’ll get to meet the doctor three months later. Also, if the child is disabled and needs special therapy, the hospital will be able to provide it only once in three months or so.”
According to the US-based Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, developmental disabilities are conditions due to ”impairment in physical, learning, language, or behaviour areas.” The disability manifests in the child before the age of 18 in most cases, which is why the Bal Asha Trust gives special emphasis to early intervention.
At the Bal Asha Trust, children with developmental disabilities are exposed to three types of therapies: speech therapy, physiotherapy and neuro-therapy. Sunil says, “It was the lack of rehabilitation facilities in affordable hospitals that moved us to construct CDC. We visited and spoke to NGOs in Mumbai that work with children who have special needs, and we realised that even though they are doing some pioneering work in their fields, they are overburdened. That’s when it struck us that we need to contribute our time and resources to this particular segment. So, we approached the best neuro-paediatrician in Mumbai, Dr. Anahita Hegde, who set up a team and plan for us by July 9, 2015. This team is made up of a development professional, a paediatrician, a physiotherapist, a psychologist, and an occupational therapist, who does exercises related to muscle toning.”
In the past year, the program has been immensely successful and they’ve managed to address 2,500 cases of children with disabilities.
So, are the services offered at CDC free of cost for all? Sunil says, “We see parents and patients from all walks of life. Before we make a treatment plan, we assess their financial situation and then charge a nominal fee. But, we don’t charge anything for parents who really can’t afford the treatment.”
Apart from CDC, Bal Asha also runs a children’s home and an educational sponsorship program. The children’s home was established for those under the age of 12 and it has the capability of housing around 70 children every year. This home is registered under the Juvenile Justice Act (2006) and also serves as an adoption centre. Bal Asha works with the Child Welfare Committee, which recommends children under two categories — abandoned and surrendered. Apart from screening the children regularly for health complications, they also sponsor the medical treatment of kids who are ill.
A bunch of paediatricians, social workers, psychologists, and speech therapists makes up the administrative team.
To curb the high dropout rates among underprivileged children in Mumbai, Bal Asha provides education sponsorship to children who are born to single mothers and to sex workers. This sponsorship covers fees, textbooks, stationery, uniforms, bags, shoes, and other study materials.
Though the children’s home and education sponsorship scheme are noble initiatives, it is the Child Development Centre that is in dire need of funds because of the huge influx of children with developmental disabilities. A single case takes around 45 minutes of counselling and the CDC staff is also beginning to feel the burden of the ambitious project.
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