This is Icha Foundation. A young charitable trust my sister started less than 4 years ago with a lifetime commitment to raising abandoned children, particularly ones with disabilities from abjectly poor backgrounds. At the core of her calling lies the belief that every human born on this earth has the right to live in dignity besides being given an equal opportunity to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. A life can turn around with something as little as love, care and genuine affection is what I thought, on my visit to the foundation last month.
It’s a tough project that runs mainly on her passion and compassion for the destitute. Tough because there is nothing normal or predictable with the kind of challenges these children present on a day-to-day basis. There are no benchmarks to refer to. Doctors are at least 50 km away and so are the supplies they need for sustenance. On my visit here, I was full of admiration for all the hard work that goes into making such a pleasant and wholesome life possible for these kids.
Over the 4 years Madhu Tugnait has founded a beautiful ashram (orphanage) facing one of the largest fresh water lakes in Andhra Pradesh, mostly on her own life savings. 7 abandoned/rescued children with various disabilities such as mental retardation receive care, education and therapy at no cost to either them or the government. If she had the resources she says she would handle more. “As many as there are to be found” she says emphatically. “But it’s hard to do it by oneself, without donors and volunteers” she adds.
She has been blessed with supportive friends and family who have been instrumental in making this project possible right from the time she decided to build on what was dismissed by most as marsh land. Her circle of contacts have also helped her garner support from overseas in the form of donations that just about pay for the running expenses such as salaries for caretakers, therapists and food supplies for the 7 kids. As an extension the foundation also takes care of 3 normal kids; those of the caretakers.
Ramakrishna is the resident physiotherapist at Icha Foundation. He is much-loved by the children even though he makes them do some tough exercises. The peaceful surroundings and the love he receives from them are a big bonus. The practice is helping him prepare for higher studies he says.
A caretaker’s main job involves feeding and maintaining the children like they were their mothers. Fussy eaters with disabilities makes this seemingly mundane task an everyday challenge.
This boy is not only paralysed in his legs, he also has pain if he closes his jaw. Simple tasks like drinking water become a trial for those who feed. Half the water goes trickling down the sides of the mouth.
These children may evoke your sympathy in a photograph, but in reality their zest for life evokes a very special kind of happiness. This child with all her problems manages to crawl as fast as a battery operated toy car. Full of energy and an infectious love for life, like any normal kid.
With medication and physiotherapy the staff is hoping this child’s epilepsy will be controlled and she may walk someday. At the moment she cannot stand and rolls on the floor to go from place to place.
Nursery rhymes help a mentally handicapped child to behave. One does not expect them to remember or respond to instruction in a linear way. There is no reward other than the pandemonium a child with limited mental functions brings to a class.
In severe cases of mental retardation as I was told by the teacher (handing this child), many cannot learn any subjects but may be capable of learning basic self-care habits. This child’s mental condition includes severe ADHD.
This boy cannot speak but manages to express himself with an eagerness to overcome his disability. He loves Johnny, Johnny, yes papa.
Though she’s 12 years old, this child behaves like she was five. She lives in a state of extreme excitement and disappointment speaking her own language to herself which is gibberish. She likes being in class but not the teacher.
A mentally retarded person is slow to learn and may have physical handicaps such as speech impairment, visual impairment, hearing defects, or epilepsy. In this case the child sleeps most of the time and is incapable of moving her body much. She responds positively to whispers in her ear and eats very little. Care taking requires patience and hope more than anything else.
The girl in the middle is very clever except that she has multiple deformities. From a cleft lip and palate to a single arm and deformity in her legs; in the company of normal kids she has learnt how to use her disabilities to her advantage and thus enjoys the status of being everybody’s pet.
Not all the causes of mental retardation are known; however, more than 200 have been identified, and many others are suspected. It has been a challenge for the founder of Icha to get access to medical health for the 7 children in her shelter. The boy in the middle is mentally alert, he is not dumb, he just has a speech impairment.
The cook who provides nourishment for these children maybe an illiterate but she shares the same compassion as the founder and does her job with zeal, keeping track of what each of the children likes or dislikes. Most of the food is organic and the kids are getting used to this acquired taste as is the staff which is used to eating spicy Indian curries.
The man who wears many hats, left his well-paying job in city as gardener to live amidst nature and clean up every kind of mess the kids leave behind. He ensures the garden is nourished with all the organic waste from the kitchen and that the children have fresh, clean clothes to wear.
Volunteers will have a crucial role to play in the forthcoming years of Icha Foundation. From teaching, painting, cooking, building, gardening, cleaning, healthcare, marketing and fundraising besides care taking, a volunteer can make his/her own itinerary of help based on his/her skill and interest area. As for the kids, they love visitors.
This child is one of the caretakers kids who helps her friends to learn from her. She enjoys learning nursery rhymes and hopes to be well versed in English while living with the disabled at Icha.
Caretakers are mostly salaried staff (some with kids) who have chosen to do this job and not migrate to the city to work as domestic help. Though the foundation does not have a school for want of funds, the caretakers children are learning in the classes being run in a room in the premises for the children with disabilities.
With support and visits from well wishers all over the planet, perhaps the vision to see a proper school will come to fruition. That way not only will the kids from Icha benefit as would the villagers from the nearby Kondakarla as well.
A view of the fresh water lake from the patio where volunteers and senior staff of Icha foundation stay. The rescued dogs are also permanent residents here who keep a watch on the property and the kids besides entertaining them.
A donation of as little as Rs.500 ($8.25) a month pays for doctor’s visits or vitamins required for a child with disabilities. If you wish to help please do get in touch with Madhu herself. You can find her contact details here or you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is my gift to her for doing an amazing job. Respect, that’s all.
Icha foundation is a charitable trust registered under the registrars office Vishakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India, on 4th april 2010. The registration number is: 166/10/bkg. All donations to Icha are tax exempt since it is also registered with 80g of Income Tax. The home ministry of India has recently granted Icha Foundation with the FCRA (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act 2010 ) registration, allowing it to receive direct foreign funding from an individual or company.