Babli Ramachandran, 35, is a confident, friendly, energetic person. Down Syndrome has failed to dampen her spirits: in fact, she has emerged as an inspiration to many others who suffer her condition. And the one person who has been instrumental in shaping her life and others like her is Dr. Rekha Ramachandran, who has been fighting relentlessly for more than three decades to integrate those with down syndrome into the mainstream.
“My daughter Babli was born with Down Syndrome. Petrified though I was, my maternal instinct convinced me that my daughter was God’s carefully chosen gift for me and I was going to give her my best attention. I took inspiration from all her struggles and decided to help other children and their parents with the same problem. Way back in the 1980s, there were no specific centres dealing with those suffering from this condition. Not much was known about it,” she recalls. She decided to go to Boston to equip herself with more information about the condition.
“While I got to know a lot about the condition and met many families there who had kids with the same condition, I was still not happy. Owing to cultural differences and a completely different English accent, I felt the specialists were somehow not striking a connection with my child,” she says. Eventually she decided to come back to Tamil Nadu and do something for other children like Babli.
“I set about it on a war footing, avidly learning a lot about Down Syndrome and the possible medical complications it entails. I went to every possible district of Tamil Nadu to check out the hospitals, talked to paediatricians and attended seminars and sessions on Down Syndrome. I shared my concerns as a parent, gave my contact number to all and went on gathering as much information as I could about the condition,” she shares.
It was in the early 1990s that she opened Mathru Mandir, an institution that provides rehabilitation, support and therapy for individuals with Down Syndrome while offering day care services to innumerable children from all over India and the Middle East. “The biggest challenge faced by these children is acceptance in schools. Although the situation has improved with greater awareness, parents are still searching for the right help. Increase in social and family acceptance and inclusive education is not implemented,” she says. At Mathru Mandir she addresses the needs of each child individually, helps them understand their strengths and weaknesses and counsels parents on how to deal with these special children.
“I want these kids to become confident and independent individuals who can shape their own destiny. Today when I look at my daughter who walks, talks, sings, dances and behaves like any other person, I am encouraged to strengthen other parents into accepting their special children and reassuring them that their hard work will bring wonderful rewards that are so difficult to explain in words,” she says.
As told to Papia Lahiri Saini