12-YEAR-OLD Kamala pensively looks at the traffic signal and beams with hope when the red-light flickers. Quickly, dragging herself on that dusty, busy street of Bengaluru she goes about balancing her polio-stricken body in one hand and tapping the windows of the cars, begging for money. While a few extend crumpled notes or coins, other restive commuters shoo away differently abled Kamala.
Often ostracised, discriminated against or abandoned by their own family, many persons with disabilities like Kamala face a hard life in India. Differently abled young girls and women, particularly, are considered weak and worthless and are at a heightened risk of domestic and sexual violence.
Finding her in the streets, the police brought Kamala to Cheshire Homes India located at the Old Airport Road in Bengaluru. For abandoned girls with disabilities, Cheshire Homes is a safe haven. One of the oldest charitable institutions in the country, Cheshire Homes provides girls with disabilities with a nurturing environment along with the means to achieve their own goals and become productive members of society.
Group Captain Geoffrey Leonard Cheshire, a highly decorated fighter pilot, founded a hospice after resigning from service in Great Britain. It later grew into a charity – Leonard Cheshire Disability – after he found one of his co-officers with a disability and had nowhere to go. He started the first Cheshire Homes in India in Mumbai in 1956. Cheshire Homes in Bengaluru was set up in 1961.
Cheshire Homes in Bengaluru started its journey with a solitary resident, a severely arthritic and bedridden girl in 1961. After rehabilitating thousands of differently abled girls, it now takes care of 28 girls with disabilities. The residents get free boarding, lodging, and other basic facilities to ensure that they lead a normal life.
Air Marshal Philip Rajkumar, retired Indian Air Force officer and veteran of the Indo-Pak war is now the Chairman of the home.
He says, “When a disabled girl is born to a poor family in the rural areas, then the girl child suffers from total neglect. They just are allowed to rot literally and waste away their lives. We open doors to such girls and help transform their lives and become productive members of society.”
Varsha was only three months old when she was brought to the home, Paralysed from the waist down due to a neurological disease, the little girl was abandoned by her own family. Cheshire Homes embraced Varsha. Now the nine-year-old, surrounded by a loving atmosphere, goes to school, receives uninterrupted medical care and a big group of friends to play and learn.
All 28 girls at the home receive free boarding and education till post-graduation. They get medical care including assistive devices and corrective surgeries at the most prominent hospitals. Cheshire Homes India also provides vocational training based on their aptitude, ability and skills, and other extracurricular activities such as sports, art, yoga, etc to make them productive members of society. On an average, the home spends around ₹16,000 a month on every differently abled girl to meet all the needs.
Kamala has undergone corrective surgery on the hip that has helped her walk with crutches. She attends Cottolengo Special School and spends the evenings doing physiotherapy and learning crafts. Kamala, according to Cheshire Homes, is everyone’s favourite thanks to her smiling face and winning nature.
Cheshire Homes needs your help
Cheshire Home sees the potential in each differently abled child and believes that all children deserve to have big dreams and they need to be provided with enough opportunities to realise them. It does what it could do best – handhold the young girls to reach their potential. But sadly, the home and future of these young girls are at stake. With donations receding and funds shrinking, Cheshire Homes India is facing a major financial crunch due to the pandemic.
The 60-year-old institution is now worried that it may have to shut its doors to vulnerable girls. The noble non-profit needs your help to continue taking care of its current residents and many more in the future. Click here to know how you can help them.
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Sruthy is a content writer at GiveIndia. A post-graduate in Literature, she is a connoisseur of dank memes… and biriyani. Sruthy is a permaculture enthusiast and likes to write stories about people’s lives for the social sector.