Tuesday, August 15, 2006

More than just a family

Kutumba is a home away from home for not only physically challenged children below the age of 15 but also for physically challenged girls who come to Bangalore to make a career, discovers Matilda Yorke.

 

When you are in the adoption field, placing a healthy child with a couple is relatively easy. But try placing a challenged child — mentally or physically — and you will discover as Mary Paul did way back in 1990 and even today, that it is a frustrating exercise.

So what did she do? “I decided that I would set up a home for challenged children who could not go into adoption.” That’s easier said than done. Where to find the kids and the funds? But determination and prayer led Mary to Aunty Cornelius who was looking after three challenged children and wanted to transfer the kids to someone who could take care of them. The Happy Home for Spastics and other disabled was set up under Kutumba (the Sanskrit word Kutumba for family).

A dream com true

Today Kutumba is home, not just to physically challenged under-15 children. For the last 15 years, it has become a home away from home for physically challenged girls who come to the city to make a career. NGOs in Bangalore and in other rural areas of Karnataka sometimes refer the girls to Kutumba.

“The girls in their villages are forced to lead secluded lives because their families are ashamed of their disability. So with a lot of counselling they take the courage to come to Bangalore to learn a trade or vocation and thereafter find employment. But they have no accommodation as they cannot afford to pay the rent or hostel fee.” So Kutumba provides them with a home, absolutely free, under the guidance of a house mother. The girls go to study, work or vocational training centres and return in the evening to a family atmosphere, as is in every other home. They are encouraged to find suitable jobs or are placed in various organisations through Kutumba's networks. When they are financially stable, they move out and are encouraged to bring in a family member to stay with them.

Says Mary: “This group foster care gives the girls a permanent home and a stable environment. Kutumba’s family-like structure is formed by four basic principles – mother, siblings, house and village. Each family has a home of its own, and its members are the children and their mother who creates strong and dependable relationships and gives the children a safe and loving home.

This dream of Mary Paul has already taken shape. Says Mary: “Thanks to two of our major donors — i-flex solutions and Stichting Geron with CORDAID in The Netherlands, we have managed to build two of the eight planned cottages in Doddgubbi, near Kothanur in Bangalore North East. Each home has a combined living/dining room as the centre of social life. The familiar atmosphere of a home of their own encourages bonding within the families and is another important piece in the mosaic that gives the children a feeling of belonging and shelter.”

Besides just providing the children with a roof over their heads, Kutumba prepares them to lead lives on their own. “This is essential, as they must realise that they need to integrate into their local communities.”

They’ve broken free

Take for example, Anjamma, who during her three-year training as draftsman, lived at Kutumba. The nurture and care given at Kutumba helped her to love herself and others around her, to accept herself with all the limitations and to be a joy in her surroundings. She, along with a few friends, realising the difficulties of commuting to work, has set up a small manufacturing and marketing unit. She has developed a new set of skills and excels in the creative arts. More than anything else Anjamma is renewed in her mind and has a healthy self esteem.

Says Mary: “Her growth over the three years has been remarkable. Not only did she equip and qualify to work in the world outside, but grew in and matured into a confident, assured young woman.”

Arjun, one of Kutumba’s early residents, was brought by an autorickshaw driver when he was about eight-years-old. He was working in a scooter garage. With the help of the other residents, he started reading. After a few years he passed his tenth standard. Today, Arjun has two telephone booths and has employed a physically challenged person to man one booth while he takes care of the other.

There are several like Arjun and Anjamma who have walked out of the portals of Kutumba, having carved a future for them. “Rehabilitation and empowerment of deprived disabled girls through a holistic care and development programme is our goal. We have plans to enhance our services like implementing a larger variety of vocational training programmes, initiate small-scale business ventures with the girls and provide them with the necessary infrastructure, and any other support that they might need, set up a special needs school. To make Kutumba a complete family, we will build six more cottages, so that we can accommodate at least a hundred girls and include elderly also in our care.” Kutumba provides respite care from a day to three months, for families who have physically challenged children. “Respite care provides time-off for family members who care for someone. Caregiving is a demanding task, and it is easy to neglect your own health and well-being when you are involved with your loved one's needs. Respite care helps care-givers take a break from the daily routine and stress,” says Mary Paul.

Of course shifting to the new location has brought about a new challenge — commuting to their special school and places of work is tough since buses are very few. An imminent need is a vehicle to transport the children from the village to their places of study and work.

Mary Paul can be contacted on 9448674035/32952832.