Thoughtful musings of an intern from CFL, Nivedita Jajoo, who charmed us all with her enthusiasm, sensitivity and compassion. Her ability, to navigate through the 5 weeks of her internship with creativity and insightful observation, was evident in her presence at the centre. She pens down her experience with her characteristic disarming honesty.
I had the privilege to intern for 5 weeks at Snehadhara Foundation, a not for profit organisation, working with children and adults with special needs. The twin goals of the foundation are art-based therapy (ABT) and education for inclusion. Art based therapy (ABT) is a mental health profession that uses creative process of art making to improve and enhance the physical, mental and emotional well- being of individuals of all ages.
Working with these kids is demanding, rewarding and fulfilling. The day after New Year, stepping into Snehadhara made me feel uncomfortable and scared. I was nervous as I was stepping into a new place and the fear of working with children with special needs. Also, I reached late (thanks to Google maps which made it even harderJ). My mind swirled with endless questions. How will they respond to me? Will they be scared of my presence? Will they accept me in their day to day activities?
Reflecting back, I now feel that they were the most loving kids I have ever encountered and in fact, I was scared of them during the initial few days.
When Naina says two words, the teachers are in awe. When Umaima gets rhythm and sways to the dance beats, the teachers are elated. Success here in the context of special children is not measured in meters but millimetres, so even the smallest of achievements of these children bring smiles on all our faces.
There is so much to learn from these kids and to grapple their inner worlds. One just needs to interact with them and observe their behaviour. After the initial rapport of 10 minutes, they treat you as their childhood friend! It is so interesting to see this friendship building with no complications, inferiority complexes etc. I think this is the most valuable lesson I have learnt at this place, these children have taught me the true meaning of the term “friendship.” Age is not the barrier to love peers, there is no competition, they are freed from peer pressure/dynamics etc.!! What a stress-free and carefree life is this!
The job here requires patience in abundance and one needs gallons of compassion (if compassion has to be measured). The sessions here are so creative which enhances the physical, mental and emotional well- being. Arts based therapy (ABT) activities here have shown me on how to provide a visual tool for communication, a window of imagination and the ability to make connections with one another.
When someone is labelled as “Special” the “Normal” population get the perception that they don’t have the capabilities or abilities that the “Other” kids do. But to speak from experience I say they have all that but with them, it might just take them a little extra time and practise to get it. If we just work on things and break them down they can really achieve anything!
A question such as what is ‘normalcy’ who is considered ‘normal’ have stayed and has been enforced in me after interning at Snehadhara. Normal is so subjective and open for endless conversations over tea as well as to organise large conferences! To me, it is a spectrum and a continuum. Having learnt definitions of ‘abnormality’ for my psychology exams, I fell there are lots of limitations in these definitions. Firstly IQ test is biased and so very ethnocentric, so what is ‘intelligence?’ Using the word biased is too soft here to describe the test, they are probably erroneous!!
At the end of my 5 weeks, there were some millimetres of learning on my part in terms of patience and yes tolerance, acceptance and even empathy. There is a shift in thinking of inclusion in me. Snehadhara’s tagline – “a continuum of compassion and care” will hopefully remain with me despite the challenges in navigating through the “real” world.