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“We ensure that children with disabilities enjoy fruitful lives just as other children do”

Instead of telling an individual’s story this time we thought we would tell the story of an organisation. But the story of this organisation actually began with one individual! The first chapter in the remarkable story of Agosh Holding Hands starts with Diljot Kaur, who was born with Down Syndrome (DS).
Maninderjit Kaur and Kawaljit Singh, a couple in Amritsar, were leading a comfortable and fairly ordinary life. Kawaljit had his dry fruits business and Maninder, her thriving boutique. Their two children, Manveer Singh and Jasmeet Kaur, completed their family. In 2005 Maninder’s brother had a child, Diljot, who had DS and also developed serious medical problems. The family visited every possible shrine to pray for her recovery. Her health became so precarious that her mother couldn’t bear the strain of being a caregiver anymore. So in 2008, Maninder offered to take charge of three-year-old Diljot. Her children were now adults – Manveer was 22 and Jasmeet 18 – so she thought she could effortlessly manage the little newcomer to the family.
Maninder realised that taking care of Diljot was a full-time occupation. After a year, her boutique business started failing and she was ready to call it quits. But Manveer and Jasmeet told her, “Ma, how can you give up so easily?” They reminded her that she was the one who wanted to give Diljot a life like that of any other child. “After that I didn’t look back,” she recalls. “I had my family backing me.”
Maninder pressed the re-start button with the objective of making life enjoyable for Diljot. No school would admit Diljot and Maninder spent most of her time taking her to speech therapy and physiotherapy. In her pursuit she realised that there were many children like Diljot who were deprived of what regular children enjoy. Hence, in 2013, she shut down her boutique and decided to start her own school for special children. Kawaljit also wound up his business and he, Maninder, and Rakesh Bhatara, the mother of Sameer whose story appeared recently in EGS, invested their own funds and started Agosh Holding Hands.
It started small, with just Diljot and Sameer, as they had limited funds, but gradually the number of students increased. Pre-Covid they had 76 children and 12 teachers; now they have 34 students and 7 teachers. Maninder is the President of Agosh Holding Hands (Kawaljit is principal) and has gathered experience over the years to become the counsellor as well. Their space of around 2200 sq ft was a tight squeeze to accommodate classrooms as well as space for therapies, vocational sessions, games and other activities. In 2019, a donor from Mumbai donated Maninder land of around 5800 sq ft, which she promptly registered in the name of Agosh.
They don’t limit their intake to children; there are adults with intellectual disabilities up to 42 years old. “Parents generously contribute but we do not insist on fees,” said Maninder. “Some have no means to pay, but there are good Samaritans who donate and help us run the school.” In 2019 one of these Samaritans sponsored a trip for all the students to Shirdi which included accommodation. In March this year they took them to Chintpurni temple in Himachal Pradesh. Going on picnics, celebrating festivals and the Annual Day, and taking part in cultural competitions are some of the ways in which Agosh ensures that these children enjoy life like other children do.
“These children are very caring towards one another and also learn from one another,” said Maninder. When Vicky Roy went there for his photo shoot, he captured Diljot along with Soham Arora (12) and Javesh Mahajan (15) who also have Down Syndrome. Maninder told us that Javesh is very shy but is good in studies, while Soham is naughty though he has no speech. Maninder’s only concern about Diljot is that, like many persons with DS, she shows her affection by hugging everyone but hasn’t yet learnt to discriminate among whom to hug and whom not to.
Jasmeet is now married and settled in Canada while Manveer, also married, lives with his parents. Maninder has domestic employees to help run the household. So as not to upset the family’s routine, during the week she prefers to stay in a room in Agosh, along with Diljot, going home on Saturday evening and returning on Monday morning. At 4.30 p.m. she takes Diljot to Mitti Café, run by Agosh students. She says Diljot is very good at serving customers. The other students leave the café by 7.30 p.m. while Maninder along with Diljot continues to run it till 9.30 p.m.
Every year Agosh sends a maximum of eight students to participate in the North Zone Cultural Competition for Intellectually Disabled Children in Hoshiarpur. When we spoke to Maninder she was excitedly making preparations for this year’s competition on 13 and 14 April. Later she shared photos and videos of students performing a skit, taking part in a fashion show, and dancing. “Every year we win prizes,” Maninder told us, and this year was no different, with a couple of students posing with a huge gold-and-white trophy for First Runner Up! 


Vicky Roy