Icon to view photos in full screen

“I hope the fragrance of Saksham spreads ever wider to include many more children”

We don’t mean to undermine fathers but we at EGS have found that nine times out of ten, it’s the mothers who play a pivotal role in the lives of their disabled children. Not only that, in some cases they combine their strengths to build a life raft for others as well.
EGS has previously featured persons whose mothers founded the vocational and rehabilitation centre Saksham, and we decided to spotlight the centre itself. In 2023 Vicky Roy captured its activities via three of the 22 children there: Rajat Sachdeva (24), Shivam Sharma (15) and Shiveta Mehra (38). Their mothers were unanimously grateful for the support their children had received from Saksham Bhavans Aashray (as it is known, since it comes under Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan’s Amritsar Kendra).
Monika Sachdeva told us that when Rajat was diagnosed with Down Syndrome at six months, neither she nor her husband had a clue about the disability. “Back then there were no special schools, no awareness,” she recalls. “We tried multiple schools before we found Saksham. It has amazing teachers who have helped Rajat become the independent person he is today. He is learning Photoshop and is very good at it. They also conduct swimming classes.” On her own initiative Monika had enrolled 12-year-old Rajat in swimming lessons at a local pool but encountered a hostile atmosphere. “A pool user actually complained about Rajat and demanded that he stop using the pool. The person in charge returned the fees and ordered me to take him off the rolls, despite my trying to explain that he has Down Syndrome.”
Chaman Mehra, in charge of the everyday operations and their execution at Saksham, outlined its goals: to empower the students; make them independent in doing their daily chores; identify and bring out their hidden talents; work towards making society accept them; and aim to make them confident, happy, beloved children living with dignity. From 8.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. the students go through 30-minute classes or sessions of special education, computers, arts and crafts, physiotherapy, entertainment and sensory integration.
“Working with the children every day fills me with joy,” Chaman told us. She recalled an autistic boy who insisted his mother remain with him in class for the entire six hours. They gradually reduced her hours to five, four and so on until he was able to function without her. “It may seem like a small thing but for the child, the mother and us it was a big milestone,” Chaman says. “He loves coming to Saksham. He slowly realised that we too are part of his family.” 
Recently they held a practical demonstration of the voting process, creating a booth and a machine. Monika says that Rajat was super excited, although on ‘election day’ he got slightly confused while voting and his father had to nudge him along. She considers it her duty to prepare him for the world around him, keeping in mind what a teacher had once told her: ‘You should never pity Rajat and show him sympathy, because the world never will’. Monika treats him just like his older sister and younger brother – no special favours! The family includes him in all their outings. “Initially I would get very upset when people would stare at Rajat,” says Monika. “But over time we as a family were united in our attitude, which was as if to say, stare as much as you want, it only makes us stronger.”
Shivam’s mother Rajesh Kumari Sharma, a pharmacist in a private company, told us that he was diagnosed with autism at around the age of four. He received mainstream schooling till Standard Six. “After that, none of the bigger schools would accept him so I chose smaller schools. In 2022 I enrolled him in Saksham which came as a blessing to the people of Amritsar. They taught him to be self-reliant.” Six months ago he joined a residential special school in Delhi.
Shashi Mehra echoes Rajesh’s views when she says, “Saksham came as a godsend to us and Shiveta absolutely loves it. In fact when we went to Australia to visit my son she wanted to come back at the earliest because she wanted to go to school! Even on holidays she wants to go. She thoroughly enjoys the pool party they have every Tuesday.” Shashi had quit her job to devote her attention to Shiveta who fell from a height at the age of two and developed an intellectual disability thereafter. Her doctor husband died during the pandemic.

“My motivation comes from the mothers of these children – their determination to never give up,” says Chaman. However, Monika says, “It is not possible for the mother to do everything by herself. My husband and my mother-in-law have always stood by me. Rajat is surrounded by his loving siblings, parents and grandmother and this has increased his self-confidence.”
“More than our teaching the children it is we who learn from them; their challenges teach us so much,” Chaman declares. “When you spend time with them they give you so much unconditional love that you feel overwhelmed. I really wish all the children are able to live a dignified and full life.”


Vicky Roy