In Depth

Hope in despair: A special home for Kashmir’s special kids

In their respective parental homes, they were born as ‘unsound’ kids with least chances of acceptance in their immediate society. But amid hopelessness, a shimmering hope came when their parents found a home away from home for their special kids.

On an icy cold December morning, three young students are quietly sitting, and occasionally giggling and whispering to each other, while warming themselves up in the office room of ‘Miss Aaliya’ — the young, unpretentious caretaker of Srinagar Hyderpora’s special home for the kids.

“Are you feeling better,” Aaliya tells the boys, in a compassionate voice.

A nod by the head, a smile with a shy blink, and a calm expression while turning the head low comes as the respective response from the three students.

Aaliya doesn’t miss this response by a second, and switches the heater from hot to normal mode. Over the years, under the same roof, she has understood their communication and behavior perfectly.

From outside, the din of speedy vehicles and market buzz is giving a sense of a normal day in the bank lane of Hyderpora, Srinagar.

Staring at the flame of the heater with almost wide eyes, one of the boys, 21-year-old Mudasir looks absorbed.

Coming from a poor family background of Bemina in Srinagar, Mudasir joined this center for special kids almost 12 years back when he was just 9-years-old.

Born with Down Syndrome, Mudasir lost his mother when he was just 18-month-old. His father’s remarriage made his uncle and aunt as his guardian. His new parents took care of him, like their own child.

“He used to spend most of his time wandering in the streets but by evening he would be home,” says Nusrat, Mudasir’s aunt, whom he calls ‘Mamma’.

Mudasir with his ‘Mamma’ Nusrat and brother. (FPK Photo/Arif Nazir)

Like his own mother, Nusrat understood quite early Mudasir’s needed special attention and care.

“Initially Mudasir would be angry, confused and puzzled,” Nusrat continues. “But we gradually understood that he was a special kid from Allah to us, who just needed extra love and care.”

But as he grew up, Mudasir’s parents thought of admitting him in a special school for his better grooming. It was during that search they came across Life Help Centre for the Handicapped (LHCH).

The Chennai-based welfare NGO has been operational in Srinagar since 2006, when it had come to the valley for post-2005 Uri rehabilitation plan. It offers its service in form of special schooling for both mentally and physically challenged persons.

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In Kashmir, the centre started from Barzalla Srinagar, where Miss Aliya, a Srinagar-based physiotherapist became its Kashmir Project coordinator. After a few years it was shifted to Chanapora and recently it has been shifted to Hyderpora.

“So many of our students are accommodated free of cost, taking into consideration their poor financial conditions,” Aliya says.

Mudasir was one such child, who was admitted in the centre, which eventually became his new home.

And a decade later, Mudasir is a changed boy.

“His speech has become very clear,” Nusrat glows with pride. “He has become independent enough to take care of himself. He mostly stays here and has accepted this place as his home.”

All his expenses and medical check-ups are met by the centre, which a few months back even made arrangements for his eye surgery. But unfortunately, the surgery didn’t happen, as nervous Mudasir freaked out in the operation theatre.

Back in Miss Aaliya’s office, a boy sitting next to Mudasir seeks her permission to leave: “I’m warm! May I leave?” To which, Miss Aaliya responds, “OK, dear.”

The boy is 19-year-old Mukhtar who was admitted in the centre 8 years ago.

Mukhtar (right) with his friend. (FPK Photo/Arif Nazir)

Coming from South Kashmir’s Tral town, Mukhtar has an ailing mother back home. His father died two years back.

“Born in a financially poor family, Mukhtar grew up with this tag of roaming ‘moutt’ [insane] in the town,” says Fayaz Ahmad, an employee of Help Centre. “I brought him here, for his well being.”

Mukhtar has improved a lot in the centre over the years. Today, he can take care of himself like any other teenager.

“His eye contact, listening ability and sense of responsibility have improved a lot,” Fayaz continues, as he points how society often ignores and fails its special kids.

Like Mudasir, Mukhtar is also very much attached to the centre. “On vacations,” Fayaz says, “Mukhtar often tells his family members back home, “Wanni govuss bi yeti darbidarr, bi gassi school wapass (I drifted a lot here. I better go back to school now).”

Inside her office, Miss Aliya talks about proper observation to engage with kids suffering from Down Syndrome, Autism and slow learning abilities.

Kids during a session at the centre. (FPK Photo/Arif Nazir)

“The basic thing that is missing in most of these cases is the early intervention from the family side which could become a sound factor in creating a difference,” the unassuming guardian reckons. “The inclusive education can really prove to be helpful to get these kids acceptance in our society.”

She briefly falls silent, after being interrupted by 17-year-old Shujat, the third boy sitting near the gas heater: “Mam, class?”

She holds the boy by his hand and takes him downstairs to the classroom.

“Apart from being a slow learner, he [Shujat] is losing his eye-sight every passing day,” Aaliya laments.

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Shujat along with his 12-year-old younger sister Sadaf, another Down Syndrome kid, were brought to Miss Aliya’s notice in 2012. Since then, the centre has been his second home.

But what’s troubling Miss Aliya is Shujat’s constant plunge into darkness. “I’ve personally shared his reports with some leading ophthalmologists, but everyone expressed no hope for his treatment,” Aliya says with a sad face.

Yet Firdousa, Shujat’s mother, is hoping amid hopelessness.

Shujat (right) with his mother and sister. (FPK Photo/Arif Nazir)

“Since he [Shujat] was born, he has been operated upon more than three times and every time they thought he won’t make it, but I always knew that he is from Allah and Allah is with him,” the mother says, with a tearful face.

“I’m collecting every single penny from everywhere possible, so that once the treatment comes out for Shujat, I won’t waste a second to get it to him.”

It’s this belief coupled with Miss Aaliya’s effort, which has now become the shimmering hope amid darkness for these special kids. And their smiling faces and confident attitude only act as testimonies to that belief and effort.


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