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FROM THE PRESIDENT'S DESK - DR. SHAYAMA CHONA
A Journey Of 25 Years-In Pursuit Of Inclusion

Three decades ago after the birth of my daughter Tamana, I had a dream to create a world of inclusion. It has taken 25 years of struggle by us to open the minds of Indian society to accept the disabled. As my daughter Tamana has grown into a well settled and independent adult, so has the organization. This growth has been nurtured by our optimism in drawing out the excellence and potential of each special child. We have observed that nothing is beyond them. They can walk the ramp, dance on stage and win medals at international sports events. They can also earn by creating art pieces and handicrafts, as well as work in offices, schools and shops.

Their smile tells us "I can do it, give me a chance but I need you" That is the truth. They need you, give them a hand. You give them an inch, they will run a mile.

A Voice from the Heart

Many, many years ago, my life took an unexpected turn, with the birth of my daughter Tamana. She was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and declared partially sightless with nystagmus and corneal opacity. My ordinary world was suddenly overturned. At that time I had no idea what was to be done; all I knew was that I had to do something for my child and future generations to come.

It has been a very long journey from that point of time, till today. As the founder President of Tamana which endeavours to promote a better way of life for the mentally challenged and autistic; committed to improving the conditions of the underprivileged and the poor; and as the Ex-Principal of Delhi Public School R.K. Puram, which is an outstanding example of a ‘profile of quality’ , the journey has been one of discovery, with an ever-deepening realization that each one of us can make a difference. As we move into the new millennium, we have to activate that choice to bring about the changes that are so needed. And as we open up to transformation within ourselves, so society also transforms; every change that each individual makes, creates a chain reaction that is of benefit to all.

True compassionate action comes out of the awareness that we are all inseparable. We are each so similar. Beneath the colour of our skin lie the same organs, the same blood and tissue; we breathe in the same air. We are so similar, yet the differences in our minds become vast and create a separation, ignorance, and hatred, that blind us to who we truly are. We have different roles to play, like the various instruments that make up an orchestra, but each one is essential for the full symphony.

DPS R.K. Puram and Tamana made me reflect, go into deep personal inquiry, that ultimately transformed my entire personal perspective and professional focus. DPS R.K. Puram brought the vision of the future into existence. Along with national and international acclaim, it pioneered the concept of inclusive education in India; and has the distinction of educating visually impaired students in the main stream. In 2007 I integrated a high functioning autistic child from Tamana at DPS. Our actions are rooted in both caring and sharing -a balance of head and heart that combines the finest human qualities -in our leadership for cultural transformation.

Many a time tears have filled my eyes. When my daughter began to chew and swallow at the age of seven; when this special child, after years of physiotherapy could stand up and take a few steps; and when this minimally brain damaged child began recognising colours.

Many a time I have wondered with awe at the power of the human spirit. This is what gave me strength and vision to set up Tamana Special School, for the welfare and rehabilitation of developmentally disabled and minimal brian-damaged children. The school, which is presently educating 200 special children, also provides facilities and opportunities for their welfare and rehabilitation. Its outreach programme seeks to cover children from Haryana, Punjab, U .P. and Rajasthan. In fact, the Tamana School pioneered the concept of integrated education, well before this become a part of the National Policy on Education.

We have also set up Computer Aided Speech Therapy for the children of this institution. The Autism Centre-School of Hope, the first school for the autisitc in India- is the gift to the nation by Tamana. Tamana has recently built a beautiful hostel for boys with disabilities, and runs educational courses for teachers specializing in Special Education, which are recognized by the Rehabilation Council of India (RCI). Our aim at Tamana has always been normalization for our students. Following the high court order for inclusion, Tamana will be a bridge for integrating for high functional special need individuals into mainstream schools. Even with all these efforts there is always a question at the back of the parents minds ‘What after us?’ To give these individuals a meaning to life we have a dream. A dream of having a world of their own, an independent living village, a panchayat, run by them and for them. A heaven on earth...

A quote from Mahatma Gandhi inspired me to set up schools for slum children -the Anubhav Shiksha Kendra, at DPS R.K. Puram and the Tamana Kindergarten. It said: "Look into the eyes of the poorest man or woman and ask, 'Is your work going to make his or her life any better?' " The underlying catastrophe is poverty -economic poverty, spiritual poverty, and poverty of the imagination.

The tremendous potential of education can literally transform the world. A concerted effort is required to bridge the gulf between the 'haves' and 'have-nots' , and enable them to live with dignity and general well being. In addition to this, the projects for the disadvantaged children have the important social objectives of inculcating values of national integration, educating the girl-child, eliminating crime, and the observance of small family norms. For, it is my firm belief that education and financial support are not only essential in combating poverty, but are also indispensable in building a world of greater justice and quality.

The journey of a dream does not end with the dreamer.' It is like the rainbow encompassed by many colours and shades. As the humble recipient of many awards -the Padama bhushan and Padmashri; the 2 National Awards in both Education and Social Service; the State Award; Woman of the Year; Best Citizen of India Award; Mother Teresa Award -and several more, and the recommendation by the Guinness Book of Records, to place me as the recipient of the largest number, have little meaning compared to the immense joy and sense of achievement I feel in trying to help others find their rightful place in this world. The personal rewards I experience on a day-to-day basis, through the activities of the three very special institutions, are the greatest awards bestowed on me.

George Bernard Shaw had said, "I want to be used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. Life is no brief candle. To me it is a splendid torch, and I must make it burn as brightly as possible, before handing it on to future generations".

So do I.
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