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  Volume 3 - Issue 10
OCTOBER 2005

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WINDOW TO SAI SEVA

SHANTHI SCHOOL IN KUWAIT
TRANSFORMATION IN A MEDICAL CAMP

THE SPECIAL 'SHANTHI SCHOOL' IN KUWAIT

FOR CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS



The location of Kuwait in the Persian Gulf - Middle East Asia

Imagine if destiny ordained your family with a child with special needs. A child who even after receiving your love and attention for 6 yrs can barely recognize you! ….or a child who forgot everything that you taught just 5 minutes ago in a trice! …or a child who never learnt to write and can barely speak because his hands or mouth would not coordinate with his brain …

How would you feel? Sometimes you might feel confused, sometimes frustrated, and at times in dire need of support. But imagine a case where the mother of a family, apart from taking care of her normal children, volunteers herself to take care of a special child and spends most of the day with this special child…giving the child the special attention and love that the child desperately needs…caring for him with the same love and concern that she does for her own child…and making miracles happen. Calling such selfless volunteers as angels will not be an overstatement, you will agree.

No wonder, the parents of one such special child wrote in a letter to the Sai volunteers in Kuwait,

“When God could not be everywhere, he made Mothers. But when he wanted to spread hope and love, He made Guardian angels like you ALL.”

Further, in the letter, the parents told the volunteers how their child had now “grown to newer heights on your wings of love”.

We are talking about the Shanthi School for special needs children, set up and run in an amazing fashion by Sai devotees in Kuwait.

This has been going on for seven years now and we knew about it only when we saw the pictures and read the inspiring stories of the mentally challenged children in an exhibition in Chaitanya Jyoti Museum. This had been organized by the Sai Organisation of Kuwait during the Guru Poornima Celebrations in Prashanthi Nilayam as part of Swami's 80th Birthday celebrations.

We had decided on that day itself that we will share this story with all our readers. For it is a story of great inspiration…it is a tale of the power of love… a testimony to what can be accomplished by willing hearts full of selfless love …. of how miracles can happen if we are sincerely committed to God and good work.

Before we further tell you in detail about the activities that go on in this special school, their methodology, their philosophy of care, etc. let’s go right to the beginning…how the school came about in the first place.

The Beginning

Due to the expense of schooling in Kuwait, parents of low and middle-incomes find it impossible to find schools for their children with special needs. Seeing this opportunity for service, the Kuwait Sai Centre opened the School for Special Needs Children as a service project, dedicated to their beloved Sai, in 1998. It had 5 students and 12 volunteers then and was actually located in the living room of a volunteer’s home.

In order to cater to the increasing demand of such children with Special Needs, the school was shifted to a more spacious location in an area called ‘Shaab’. The house was offered free to the school by a generous Kuwaiti gentleman Mr. Hussain Al-Qattan. This made it possible for the volunteers to enroll more children.

The First Building of the Shanthi School
The New Building being inaugurated by Mr. Hussain Al-Qattan

This new location was inaugurated by the then Indian Ambassador to Kuwait H.E. Mr. Prabhu Dayal in 1999. However, as the owners were to renovate the house, the school had to be shifted to another location in a rented apartment in a place called ‘Salmiya’ to sustain its activities. The school presently has 18 children and 16 volunteers. 


Classrooms inside Shanthi School

The Volunteers

What is the Volunteers' Attitude and Approach?

‘Every day and every interaction with these children taught me values such as patience, compassion, selfless love and more than anything else a positive attitude to life. I have learned to live every moment as God's special gift without complaining about things that I do not possess.’

This is what a volunteer, Sister Vidya Saigopal, of the Shanthi School has to say. And this is kind of response you will receive from any volunteer who is working in this school. It is not only this positive attitude that has made this school a success but also the volunteers’ training ability, skill and commitment which has done wonders. And how do the volunteers pick up the skills to train these special children?

The school is very professional in its approach. It actually trains its volunteers regularly through workshops to help build their skills to handle the children in the best possible manner. Training programmes are conducted by professionals for these volunteers who come from diverse backgrounds, in various fields, including Psychiatry, Physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy.


Why and How Do The Volunteers Work?

Professionals and volunteers work tirelessly out of their love for these children. And the only reward they expect is a smile on the face of the parents when their little one utters his first word or takes her first step.

With 16 volunteers and 18 children the volunteer-child ratio, as you can see, is very high. This enables excellence in care and quality time to be given to the wards. One has only to learn how the volunteers’ positive attitudes shape this model institution.

“I see God in these children,” one of the volunteers says, “I feel that I could be of use to someone at the end of the day. I am thankful to Bhagavan Baba for having provided me an opportunity to serve these children and thereby transform myself to be a better individual.”

Every volunteer has, in fact, something similar to narrate. Sister Meera Bala, who has been associated with the school for quite sometime now, enthusiastically tells us,

‘When I was a little girl of 10 years I used to be really scared of seeing a mentally retarded boy walk down our lane. My family members used to dissuade us from even standing in the balcony when this child passed by.


How ignorant people were those days... Now thinking back I feel, if only I had the education about children with Special Needs, I could have been a friend to him and thus made his childhood enjoyable. I strongly feel that everyone in this life should be educated about children with Special Needs from an early age. Strangely from the first day of inception of this school, I have never once looked at the children with any fear. On the contrary I just love being with them.

Personally, I feel I am very fortunate to be working with these special children of God. They are so full of love and affection and there is never a dull moment with them around. A hug, a smile, and a whole lot of love are all that they expect from us. Strange though it might sound, I have a lot to learn from their unconditional love, egolessness, their innocence and the enthusiasm with which they attend school.

Though their attention span and level of retention is low, the children never shy away from learning whatever is taught to them. The classroom comes alive when we have music, dance and party sessions. Every day is a learning process for us volunteers too. We have been trained by specialists, and teaching methods range from flash cards to puzzles, audio–visuals, speech therapy, computer aided programmes, vocational skills and academics.

 

Oh! How I miss them when we close school for three months in summer.’

Celebrating Birthdays of special children....they share and care....

Methodology and Philosophy Of Care

Who is a ‘Special Child?’

Children aged between 4 and 16 who have conditions such as Down’s syndrome, Autism, Cerebral Palsy and other learning disabilities are admitted to the School. They are assessed with professional help before admission, to decide their level of ability and their requirements and are then placed in different groups. The morning begins with Prayers (and smiles) for these very special children and the lessons are taught based on a structured curriculum.


Divine Guidance - The Altar at Shanthi School

The childrens' day starts with a prayer...

What does the School Do?

Anybody who visits the school will see that the School offers the children opportunity to realise their full potential and to make them as independent as possible in daily life. Here they learn, they share, they respond and most importantly, they blossom. Essentially Love is the primary medium of instruction. And this is their key to success.

Gross motor activities such as running, throwing, catching, jumping are encouraged in the children through group activities. A range of fine motor activities are also carried out by the children to foster eye-hand co-ordination and facilitate the development of small muscles.


Fine Motor Skills - To foster eye-hand coordination...

Skills to enable the children to be more independent are taught through steps like brushing the teeth, washing, feeding, toilet training, personal hygiene, grooming etc.

Children are also encouraged to use all their senses - visual, auditory taste, smell, and touch.

They are encouraged to solve simple puzzles, gradually moving on to more complex cognitive skills such as problem solving and logical thinking.


Solving puzzles and then cognitive skills like problem solving....

Reading, writing and arithmetic are taught through conventional methods.

Teaching aids such as video films and specially designed computer programs are used to reinforce what is taught the conventional way.


Developing writing, reading skills...specially designed computer programs to reinforce conventional learning.

The volunteers teach art and crafts to the children as part of the curriculum. The children participate in an Inter-School Drawing competition conducted by The Khalifa School (a private school for Children with Special Needs) and regularly win prizes every year in such events.

They are also given wholesome encouragement to perform cultural activities. For example, during the celebrations of Bhagavan’s birthday by the Kuwait Sai Centre, the children usually perform small skits on stage and this has always been a highlight of the stage programs. The audience looks forward to their performance every year.


Learning crafts, arts and more crafts...

The children also are trained in vocational activities such as making candles, greeting cards and a variety of other handicraft items. These were recently exhibited in the “Educare” exhibition organized by the Kuwait Sai Organisation at the Chaitanya Jyoti Museum in July 2005.

And Field Trips…

Shanti School aims to inculcate in each child, an appreciation of his or her own unique abilities. To relate to the world around them and then be accepted by society is an important step. This important aspect is covered through educational field trips organized throughout the year. These efforts have been more than amply rewarded through the satisfaction and joy of parents, and more importantly, the love showered on the children.


During Field Trips...to help them relate to the world easily....

Some of these special children have been able to achieve better skills in their thinking activities and believe it or not, they are in the process of joining schools for normal children!

Celebration of School Day

The Shanti School celebrated its School Day on 18th May, 2005 to showcase the talents of these children who performed to an audience. Under the divine guidance of Bhagavan Baba and the efforts of the volunteers, the children gave a moving performance. The audience was amazed, and warmly appreciated the special talents these children are endowed with.

The School Day was attended by dignitaries presided by the Chief Guest Ms Nadia, a prominent Kuwaiti philanthropist and included the Principals of other Indian Schools in Kuwait. Speaking on the occasion, Dr.Ramachandran - father of a student Sanjana - spoke eloquently of how his child has remarkably progressed to take care of her own basic needs, within a short span of time.

Indian Ambassador with Mr. Hussian Al - Qattan
The Chief Quest, Mr. Hussian Al- Qattan
A member of the Royal family at the school...

Meena and Leslie Noronha, the parents of Calvin, wrote a moving letter to the teachers after seeing Calvin perform on the School Day. We have already mentioned a small excerpt of this letter in the beginning of this story, here is the whole letter for you now.

A Letter From One of the Parents.

 

Dear Teachers,

This is a note to say “THANK YOU” for all that you have done and are doing for our child. The words “Thank You” convey our Gratitude, love, prayers, blessings and best wishes to you all.

Congratulations on a wonderful show on the School Day. It was a magnificent and memorable occasion for us. Seeing our child perform on stage, made our eyes water and hearts swell with pride. This was possible only because of your efforts. We thank you very much. Your patience, love and painstaking efforts were evident during each moment of the “Show”.

Our child Calvin has grown to newer heights on your wings of love. When God could not be everywhere, he made Mothers. But when he wanted to spread hope and love, He made Guardian angels like you ALL.

Wishing you all happy Vacation!

Thanking you. In appreciation and Gratitude,

Yours sincerely,
Meena & Leslie Noronha
(Calvin’s Parents)

31st May 2005

With Swami’s Grace, the school hopes to expand and increase its strength in the days to come with the objective of spreading love and providing quality care to these special children. They know it is not going to be easy but they are not deterred, as one volunteer says,

‘We would not like to give up our attempt - but be confident as each day passes. It is a test, a challenge and so we need to grow and learn with each child and learn to meet his or her special needs.

When the student is successful, the teacher is successful. We are both learners and there is great joy in learning. It is a bond which can never be broken.’

Really inspiring, isn’t!

 

To download a powerpoint presentation on Shanthi School, click here.

If you know of similar things happening anywhere, please write to us at [email protected]


TRANSFORMATION IN A MEDICAL CAMP

A tale on the transforming power of love....  

By Dr S K Upadhyay, MBBS, MRCOphthal Honorary Professor of Ophthalmology, Consultant Ophthalmologist, London

This is an excerpt from Dr. Upadhyay’s article “Quality: Not Quantity” from the compilation volume “Sacrifice is the Hallmark of a Doctor.”

A Moving Experience from Nepal


Sometimes medicine and surgery are not required for a cure. You need to transform the surrounding people who may be the cause of suffering not the disease itself. One camp was held up in the mountains in Nepal. Everyday a very large number of people came to the camp from long distances. Some travelled 2-3 days and brought the patient on their back or on improvised stretchers. The camp was located on a small flat area surrounded by snow peaked hills. The amenities were very basic, and with no electricity on the campsite, a generator was arranged. We took operating microscopes and all diagnostic tools etc - this attracted large numbers of crowds. Everyday the number of patients would increase as people would go back to their village and talk about the love and care, new glasses, free medicine, clothes and food they had received.

An Unusual Visitor

On one occasion when our volunteers were struggling to control the crowd and pleading with them to be in a queue there was a commotion. Everyone wanted to be first when suddenly something happened. All those who were trying to push each other to be in the front moved away. For a few seconds there was absolute silence. A man wrapped in a white sheet covering his face with a cloth walked in. The crowd parted and gave way in the same way when the Red Sea parted and Moses walked through. The volunteers were surprised.

Someone started shouting that this man should not be here, he was a leper. But the volunteer who brought him from the village did not listen and carried on towards the registration desk. The poor man was shaking with fear and hiding his face. He was in tears when I asked him why was he so scared. With great difficulty and sadness he said, "Can't you see I am a leper, a social boycott, no-one comes near me. Villagers forced my son not to contact me, and that is why I live outside the village, a self imposed exile."

Social Outcast

He was living in shame and fear, as if it was his fault. This is the curse of ignorance, false beliefs and myths in society. He was reassured and was told that there is nothing to be ashamed of or to fear, as God will take care of him. He was examined and then a volunteer took him, cleaned him up and he was given some clothes. After an hour he was brought out for another consultation with an English colleague, and an English priest who was volunteering his services in the camp, helped him to sit down in full view of the crowd holding his hand and offered him a cup of tea.


Someone from the waiting crowd leaped forward and said, "Don't you see he is a leper, you are offering him tea, touching him and sitting next to him. You will get the disease, he should not be here."

We replied, "Sir, for us everyone is the same. We treat everyone equally and this is a treatable condition. He needs support and love, not neglect. You should not be afraid. None of the doctors, nurses or volunteers are afraid of contacting the disease." It was difficult to convince them. He was looked after well and the volunteers made a temporary shelter (tent) for him.

Befriending the Friendless


During our stay in the camp the man stayed very near to the campsite and the volunteers took food for him, sat with him and talked to him. Initially he wanted to end his life due to the humiliation and insults that he faced, but this was a new experience for him. He felt a bit happier, shared his story on how he was under pressure from the village and his son and daughter-in-law who had left him. Now suddenly he found hope and was able to face the challenge of the disease.

We talked to him about Mother Teresa's Leprosarium and how proudly the lepers are engaged in their craftsmanship there. We also told him about our Swami and His famous saying, 'Why fear when I am here', and also the power of prayer. He was given Swami's picture, his medicines and Vibhuti.

Departure after 9 Days

Finally the day of our departure came. We were packing and the villagers also were sad. For them these 9 days were like a festival, something new. Doctors, for them, were people who were unapproachable and they found this a new experience. They could talk and communicate with us and they had seen a new caring and loving side to medicine.

Though free, quality was not undermined. Packing was almost finished; volunteers and some villagers were helping us bring the luggage down the hills to the road where the coach and truck were waiting. A couple approached me and asked if I could spare a few minutes.

Family Reunion

We started talking. I was surprised to find that they were the son and daughter-in-law of the leper. They had tears in their eyes and with great difficulty the son said, "Doctor, I was ignorant and afraid of a few villagers who said that if I lived with him they would not talk to me or invite me for social functions. But the team has opened our eyes. Please take us to our father."

We could not believe our ears. Swami says, "You do the right thing and I will take care of the rest". What a transformation!!! We were all worried what would happen to the old man when we left. But God had different plans.

First Experience of God’s Love

It was a sight unforgettable, the son holding the father's hand. Father was crying, son was crying and there were hardly any eyes without tears, tears of Joy! The old man suddenly turned and said, "I have heard of God but this is the first time I have experienced His Grace and Love - through you all. May God bless you."


We may have operated on many people and given thousands of prescriptions, but this healing is the sum total of Swami’s teaching. Serve the poor as if you are serving the Lord. See God in everyone, then you won't have any reservations and the Love will flow from Swami through you. He has declared that He is 'The healing principle in all the doctors. Vaidyo Narayana Hari.’

- From “Sacrifice is the Hallmark of a Doctor

 
You can write to us at [email protected]
Vol 3 Issue 10 - October 2005
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