Viral Dormadia was barely nine months old when a virulent attack of meningitis resulted in seizures and a cognitive deficit. He is now 28. Rahul Mehta is 24 and, like Viral, has suffered from severe depression and struggled with learning disabilities for most of his life.
Misunderstood by society for the most, and trying to come to terms with their problems and life, the two young men and over 50 special others like them have found both joy and a purpose through the Recreational Activity Centre (RAC) run by the Association for the Welfare of Mentally Handicapped-Maharashtra (AWMH) in association with VD Indian Society.
Every Saturday and Sunday, Viral, Rahul and the rest take part in sports like athletics, cricket, volleyball, basketball and table tennis.
Weekends, here we come
“A visit to the centre is the highlight of the week for Viral. He eagerly waits for those few hours and is never tired of talking about what he did with his friends at the centre for the next 2-3 days,” Viral’s mother, Shobhna Dormadia, told HT. “His life changed after he began going there and he is now confident enough to speak to strangers.
Through the RAC, Viral has got to meet people with similar disabilities. He participated in several competitions and the medals won by Viral, who has been attending RAC classes for nine years now, are displayed with pride at the Dormadia home. “Earlier, Viral would be very hyper and also suffered from convulsions. For the past four years, after taking part in sports and yoga, the convulsions have stopped and I’m even thinking of sending him for vocational training," says Mrs. Dormadia. He is confident enough now to even make the 3-km trek to his yoga classes alone.
Rahul already goes to the vocational training centre, where he makes paper parcels and agarbattis (incense sticks) and for Purnima Mehta, Rahul’s mother, the RAC is the best thing to have happened to her 20-year son.
Patience and care
“Taking care and teaching one special child gives us parents a lot of tension. How the staff at the centre, manage so many students is beyond me. But they do so with patience and love.”
The RAC is the brainchild of coach Ravi Bagdi, who learned about such centres on a visit to the US as Indian coach during the 1996 World Special Olympics.
He then bounced the idea of using sports for special children off the AWMH and officials of the VD Indian Society School. The school contributed a hall and the RAC was created in 1997 with three students.
“There is more awareness now in India that these special children are not suffering from mental illnesses or are mad. They can be integrated into society; we just have to make the effort to teach them with patience,” said Bagdi.
Today, 60 students gather at their Malad centre every weekend. Bagdi and his team teach the students a sport for three months and then hold competitions. “The basic purpose is teaching and recreation but we pick the best of the lot for competitions.
“We have organised state-level tournaments for special children in athletics and cricket and will hold a table tennis tournament in September,” said Bagdi.
The sporting life
The AWMH, started by parents of special children 30 years ago, is a pioneer in the Early Intervention Research Project, which helps parents of special children tackle the anger, rejection, frustration and helplessness they feel on discovering their children’s disabilities.
It uses sport as part of its programme to help parents realise that the special children can achieve a lot if trained with patience.
“Through sport we help them understand the concept of teamwork, interacting with strangers and explaining their needs. Sporting activities help keep them fit, inculcate a spirit of sportsmanship and build self-confidence,” said Dr H T Dholakia, the AWMH-Maharashtra, president.
For some, the efforts of these youngsters might look clumsy but the importance of their unbridled joy at making a shot or winning a point is not lost on their parents and instructors.
For them, every shot made or goal scored is one more successful step in their endeavour to bring persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities into the mainstream of society and help them live as independently as possible.
For them, Saturdays and Sundays can never come quickly enough.