INDIA is home to over 31 million individuals with disabilities – among them the intellectually challenged – and, according to some estimates, over 60% of them will not find work or become financially independent. Since 2011, Mumbai-based Mann – Center for Individuals with Special Needs has been trying to change just that.
The organisation believes that all individuals, regardless of their disability, deserve the opportunity to be full members of the community where they can live, learn, work and play through all stages of life.
Mann has dedicated itself to the growth of persons with mental retardation, autism, Down syndrome, learning disabilities and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The mission is to improve the physical, intellectual and social life of individuals with special needs by providing them with holistic skills and training.
GiveIndia speaks with Mann’s co-founder and Director, Beverly Louis, to know more about the journey of Mann, how it has changed the lives of hundreds of intellectually challenged adults and what makes her heart melt.
GiveIndia: Tell us the story behind the birth of Mann?
Beverly Louis: The seed for Mann was sown when we started a weekend hobby class at the YMCA Mumbai for young adults with intellectual disabilities to fulfil our special education training project requirement. Through something as simple as weekend hobby class, the families reported to us the positive changes they observed in their children.
In a short while, the weekend class became immensely popular and soon enough, there was a waiting list of young adults for admission into the class. Whilst conducting these classes we realised that these youth were almost the same age as us and yet they had virtually zero opportunities to experience life and do things that any young adult would want to do. We were excited about our futures, but these youth and their families had no hopes for their future.
Through our work, we got deep insights into the lives of the intellectually challenged from low-income families. We recognised that these young adults were inherently capable. They were quick to learn through imitation and possessed an untapped potential. They have very pleasing personalities and a positive attitude towards life, despite the lack of hope and opportunities and the helplessness of their families.
GI: How did you manage to continue skills and employment training during the pandemic?
BL: In a post-pandemic world where ‘normalcy’ is being reinvented for all, the coronavirus crisis has delivered an additional blow for those with disabilities – a complete breakdown of their cultivated ‘routine’ and the absence of ‘hands on’ attention in a familiar environment.
During the initial months of the pandemic, Mann focussed on addressing this disruption – reassuring and motivating students, providing emotional support to parents and providing food and daily necessities to those families who had lost jobs.
Mann’s focus soon shifted to the development of online modes of training, and have since digitised all content for students via instructional videos and methodology for live classes, conducted in real-time.
Through this crisis, Mann has realised that individuals with mild to moderate intellectual or developmental disability (IDD) are more than capable of learning remotely and online. As a result, Mann is enhancing this remote learning model to provide programme access to a wider number of individuals with IDD across Mumbai and India.
GI: Can you share with us any heart-touching story that made you feel that you have chosen the right path?
BL: I’ll share stories of two inspiring individuals who are intellectually challenged. Karan is the most meticulous person. He loves structure and routines. Adapting to the changes in his routine brought about due to the pandemic was a huge challenge. He could not understand why he wasn’t allowed to go outside his house and why his father and brother weren’t going to work and college.
He packed his bag and waited at the door every day, for months, in the hope that his mum would change her mind. It is a milestone for him, his family and all of us at Mann to have reached a stage where he supports his family with his handicraft. Watch his journey towards empowerment here. https://bit.ly/3FiETkp.
If I had to describe Ruby in one sentence, it would be someone who can learn almost everything. She is eager to try new things and gives it all and more till she masters it. She gets this from her parents who do everything in their capacity to provide her with every opportunity to shine.
They knew nothing about computers and didn’t dare to dream of ever using one in this lifetime, because of their financial hardships. But because we converted all our training into an online offering, like many others, we helped Ruby get a laptop, too. From a moment where neither of them knew how to use a computer we are now proud to share that she and her family have not only become proficient at using a computer but they have also supported her to set up and manage her very own little handmade paper business called Ruby’s Handmade. Watch her journey towards becoming an entrepreneur and support others like her.https://bit.ly/3wXTY8k.
GI: If life had not led you into starting Mann, what would you rather have done?
BL: All four founders of Mann, including me, had very different plans for our lives, right from corporate jobs to creating art. For me personally, I think I’d be working in a space where I’m designing/ creating something.
GI: When it becomes safe to travel, which three places would you like to visit and why?
BL: Oh gosh, only three! South America, Africa and Japan, because I’ve never been to these places before – and there are so many more that follow!
GI: If you could have a superpower, what would that be?
BL: That I would have the power to influence, to make changes for the better, to make the world a stress free, happy place for everyone.
Interviewed by Sruthy Natarajan
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