This Couple Started A Special School In Temple Town To Bring Light In To The Lives Of Parents With Special Children

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Madhu Babu and his wife D. Varija were happily settled in the middle east with two beautiful children, son Sreesh and little daughter Varshini. When Varshini turned one, she suddenly contracted a serious fever. At the hospital, the doctor revealed that she might be intellectually disabled too, and advised them to relocate to India so that they can take better care of her. Varija gave up her ambitious career in interior designing and moved back to India, followed by Madhu.

For months, they ran from one hospital to another; almost every single day they met one new doctor, leaving no stone unturned to offer her the best treatment. Meanwhile, the ground shattered beneath their feet, when one doctor broke the news that their three-year-old son, Sreesh, has been diagnosed with Mucopolysaccharide (MPS) – a rare genetic disorder that doesn’t allow a lifespan more than 10 years.

In 2010, the couple set up Parent’s Association for Children with Special Needs (PAC) in Tirupati, which runs the Sreesh Mandiram School for special children and guides the parents with hope, empathy and support.

They cater to differently-abled persons of all ages

The couple launched the centre to facilitate parents and children alike. Started with 18 parents once, today the number of families at PAC stands at around 70. The striking feature about Sreesh Mandiram School is that they assure to take care of all special people irrespective of their age.


Sreesh Mandiram School

“Most other NGOs or special schools would decline to keep children beyond 15 or 16. Little do they realise the plight of the parents who are supposed to look after them lifelong. So at Sreesh Mandiram School, we welcome everyone. We have admittees from 2 years to 38 years,” Madhu shares proudly, adding that two of their members with Down’s Syndrome have been offered employment at a local firm.

“Special children cannot survive on their own in this world full of struggles. Without our constant care and supervision, they will succumb to low immunity and inability to express discomfort or sickness. And for us ‘special parents’, it is the commitment of a lifetime,” expresses Madhu.



The school has changed lives for the kids as well as the parents

38-year-old Dinesh is one of the students at Sreesh Mandiram School, who finds it very difficult to respond or move on his own. When his father, a renowned doctor, passed away a few years ago, his mother was left helpless until PAC came to her rescue. “Today, she is doing a government job, relieved to leave her son in our care for the daytime,” Madhu shares.

Indifference and apathy from parents made life difficult for 8-year-old Sarika with severe disabilities. Two well-wishers got her admitted to this school and now at thirteen, she is a happy, smiling kid who has learnt to react, speak and even walk.

A typical day at Sreesh Mandiram begins with parents from in and around Tirupati dropping their children at the school building. Some parents stay behind while others head for their workplaces assured that their little ones are in good hands. Following physiotherapy and special education classes, the kids are taught to eat their lunch independently. “ISKCON has volunteered to provide lunch for some underprivileged children who are also part of our school,” informs Madhu.


Receiving the state award for best parents’ association

Music therapy, counselling sessions are also encouraged along with their most notable initiative – “Win Five Hearts” – where students from local schools and colleges drop in during special occasions to befriend, interact and celebrate with these special kids. “We are fostering social inclusion of differently-abled children in this way,” he continues, “These children would otherwise be restricted to the four walls of the home. Here a fresh change in the environment and mingling with other kids are making them more responsive, self-reliant and happy.”

They lost their son in 2015

Though PAC has applied for government funding, till now the school is funded entirely by Madhu, his friends and voluntary contributions from the member parents. Madhu has recently left his highly-paying job to devote his attention completely towards PAC. Yet, the financial burden is no challenge for this fighter couple when compared with the other hardships they sailed through.

An unfortunate conspiracy led to a theft at PAC a few years ago where all their important documents were stolen, leaving the money or expensive furniture intact. But they didn’t lose heart and rearranged everything from scratch. In yet another untoward incident, Madhu and Varija were forced to shift the school to a new locality. “Our neighbours would say that they were cursed to be residing beside a special school where the kids cry all the time,” Madhu reveals the shocking reality.

At present, they are struggling to get permission for taking the kids to a nearby park, as other parents are unwilling to let their children play in close quarters with the special children. The absence of humaneness in our society lies starkly exposed from their experiences.

Unfortunately, the couple lost their son Sreesh in 2015 when he was only ten years old. The bereaved parents have turned his burial ground into a beautiful garden to let his memory live on for ages. In fact, Sreesh Mandiram school has been named after him only.

Message for everyone

Madhu considers himself a ‘special’ father, taking pride to share that his daughter has won the state-level running competition and they are preparing her for the younger edition of Special Olympics.

“We keep on urging parents to get rid of their ego and apathy. Rather, they should consider themselves blessed as God has assigned them the resilient task of taking care of a special child,” he insists.

You can reach out to Sreesh Mandiram school at [email protected] or at 9003837053


Also Read: ‘Happy Fridge’: The Key To Bridge Food Wastage And Hunger Problem In India

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MyStory: “Two Months After I Joined IIT For My PhD I Was Diagnosed With TB”

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A person suffering from Tuberculosis (TB) not only battles the ‘Mycobacterium tuberculosis’ bacteria inside his lungs but also from the stigma attached to the disease. It weakens the patients in many different ways in their fight against the dreaded disease.  

My fight with TB was also filled with stigma. I joined IIT Kharagpur for my PhD in January 2015. Two months later, in March 2015, I was diagnosed with TB. I had to take sick leave from March 2015 that eventually lasted till June 2016. Initially, I did not respond well to medication. Further tests revealed that I had multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB). This meant that the type of TB I had was resistant to two or more of the antitubercular medication I was taking.

About a year after the intensive phase of my treatment, I felt better and applied for readmission to IIT in July 2016. A prerequisite for rejoining was that my faculty members had to verify my application. With the formalities completed, I resumed my education, but I felt that something was amiss. 

My guide indicated that he did not want his work to suffer on account of my illness. I also heard from a senior colleague that my guide had said that I would spread the disease like an ‘infested animal’. I was disheartened at being subjected to this indignity by my supposed mentor.

However, my primary concern was defeating TB, so I didn’t dwell on it. Today, as I reflect on it, I realise the reasons behind the stigma were ignorance as well as fear.

Even among the educated, there are misconceptions about TB. People think all forms of TB are contagious. Others believe the patient is infectious for the entire length of the treatment. Some even believe that TB spreads through touch. This breeds the fear of contracting the illness.

As we know, people stigmatise and discriminate when they fear. I felt the impact of the stigma on two levels – in my professional life and my personal life.

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Professionally, the reluctance of my supervisor to mentor me and his discouragement affected me. I could not decide whether I should wait for the IIT authorities to tell me to leave or drop out. That decision was made for me by luck when I found out that my CSIR grant application was never processed. 

This meant that I would have to pay for my education. Given the expenditure on my treatment, this was unaffordable for me. This was the final nail in the coffin. I was forced to drop out and could not go back to completing my PhD.

What I faced was not technically illegal. I was discouraged from doing my PhD, but it was still a form of stigma. The external stigma I faced led to depression and isolation. 

Eventually, I realised I had to fight. The treatment for TB is difficult, requiring strict compliance and the management of side effects, and these demands resolve. I began motivating myself. I began following a proper diet and completing my treatment to ensure I could recover. I also turned to books as they transported me to other worlds and helped with my isolation. I also focused on reviving my old relationships.

Gradually, things improved. I could not proceed on my desired career path, but I am an educator now. I constantly realise that I have a role to play in shaping young minds. 

Workplace stigma has tangible consequences. It affects an individual’s career, financial opportunities and their right to work with dignity. So what can we do to address this stigma? 

First, we need to sensitise people by educating them about TB, and the impact stigma has on patients.

Another measure is group counselling involving the patient, the employer and the immediate supervisor. Informal versions of these sessions happen in the workplace in the context of illnesses like cancer. Why should it be any different for TB? 

The goal of this session would be to ensure that the patient is in a supportive environment. 

Finally, at a systemic level, there needs to be a workplace policy on stigma mitigation and a mechanism where the patients can anonymously register their concerns about stigma at the workplace.

A person’s career or job is often their calling and a provider of financial security. Workplace stigma creates a hostile work environment, affecting a person’s ability to do their job and their financial security. Financial insecurity and stigma make it harder for the patient to fight TB both in terms of means and motivation. Therefore, addressing stigma in the workplace is critical to patient well-being and recovery but also to their right to work with dignity.

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It's not how much we give
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