It is essential to make society aware of immense talent that specially-abled individuals have: Dr Radhike Khanna

NEW DELHI: Dr. Radhike Khanna has dedicated her life to the upliftment and betterment of the lives of mentally challenged individuals. Through her Vice Presidency at SPJ Sadhana School and Trusteeship at Om Creations Trust and Shraddha Charitable Trust, Dr. Khanna has strived to cater to those with ‘special needs’. Progressing from the orthodox methodologies, she has constructed a more wholesome approach that nurtures and empowers these individuals.

In an interview with Dr. Radhike Khanna about the future plan for the specially-abled and how her organization trying to change this perspective in society. She says,“It is essential to make society aware of the immense talent that these specially-abled individuals possess.” Edited excerpts:

What was your inspiration behind starting OM Creations Trust?

I truly believe nothing happens by chance. I understood the meaning of it and that’s how I chose to contribute towards specially-abled and dignify them in the society. The seeds to work for society were sown in my early childhood. My father always says, “Don’t look up to the people who have it all but instead look towards helping those people who are underprivileged.”

While pursuing my education at Sophia Polytechnic, I volunteered at the SPJ Sadhana School for intellectually challenged children since both institutes shared the same campus. I used to collect funds for the betterment of specially-abled and enjoyed spending time with them. The Principal of SPJ Sadhana School, Mrs. Krishnaswamy, realised my dedication towards the specially-abled and offered me a teaching position. On her recommendation, I took up a course related to teaching the specially-abled and thereafter pursued a doctorate in the same field. Om Creations was born out of my desire to use my teaching skills and share my knowledge of special techniques for the betterment of the specially-abled.

What challenges that you faced while establishing the organizations/ highlight the 25 year of your organization.

Om Creations commenced its journey to fulfill the desire of anxious parents wanting specially-abled young adults to fully harness their limitless skills. Our efforts assisted these specially-abled adults to be economically empowered and helped them augment their family income.

This was in 1991, a time when there was barely any awareness about employing specially-abled individuals. Amidst such a scenario, Om Creations started with four young adults and a portfolio of 15 products. Though it was a modest beginning, product design and quality was stressed upon. The beneficiaries were paid a stipend right from the start.

The early years of Om Creations were tough. Slow sales, low awareness, lack of space, and inadequate trained hands and volunteers. However, these challenges only made the core team more resilient and prepared to search for innovative solutions to achieve our objectives. In addition to separate section for arts and craft activities, a lively kitchen was set-up for catering and hospitality activities after an arduous struggle.

Raising funds to enhance our portfolio and get more space was also a challenge but we are grateful to our corporate and individual donors who wholeheartedly supported our endeavours.

Commencing with merely four beneficiaries to employing over 60 adults at present, we manage a vast portfolio of more than 150 products, including paintings, gift bags, wallets, scarves and food, such as bread and other baked goods, chocolates and made-to-order meals.

Our work has changed staunch mindsets who believed our students were good for nothing and they should be put to sleep forever when they were born. We have pioneered a new way of thinking and a new paradigm of looking at the potential of the intellectually challenged who contribute to the economic aspect for the welfare of society.

The specially-abled are often looked down upon and are not given an equal opportunity in society. How is the organization trying to change this perspective in society?

These women are not only functional at Om Creations but also economically empowered. A monthly stipend is offered to them, apart from Diwali bonus and other incentives. Get-togethers, parties, picnics and excursion trips are organised regularly in order to keep them motivated. Paintings by specially-abled young adults are sent for awards and monthly meetings are held appreciating their efforts.

Through participation in various exhibitions, we aim to showcase to a wider audience that these specially-abled individuals can be absorbed into mainstream society. This empowerment has helped them to realise their dreams, given them dignity and helped their inclusion into family and society.

How essential is the exposure of such wonderful talents in the market?

It is essential to make society aware of the immense talent that these specially-abled individuals possess. This can only be achieved if more people are exposed to the wonderful craft, painting and other artifacts that are created by these specially-abled individuals.

Hence, we conduct Art Trisomy 21, an art and painting exhibition every two years. It’s a platform for specially-abled to showcase their talent and skills to the wider audience so that the societal prejudice and physical barriers do not restrict them from living a normal and empowered life. We are planning many such initiatives in the future to spread awareness and showcase their skills to the society.

One of the most heartwarming stories you have heard from these artists?

Every individual has an interesting story to tell. Some are inspiring while others are absolutely heart wrenching. Take the case of Sushma Bhagat, 44, living with Down’s Syndrome. Two years ago, her father passed away, leaving Sushma and her mother to survive on a monthly pension of Rs 1,500. Sushma’s younger sister, who could have perhaps supported the family, unfortunately committed suicide. Today, Sushma is the able bread-earner who supplements the family pension with her monthly stipend of Rs 6,500 from Om Creations.

What is your future plan for the specially-abled or for the organization?

We realised over a period of time that our ageing beneficiaries were one of the chief concerns. Over the years, these ageing beneficiaries face various physical, emotional and social issues. Many of the older beneficiaries have no one to care for them after they lose their parents or guardians. Such upheavals are not easy to cope with without a proper support system in place. Therefore, we have envisaged Om Abode, to assist these women and help them live dignified lives.

Om Abode, India’s first community living space and research centre for the specially-abled which will be situated at Khandpe, Karjat on a 12.5 acre site. It will be a community living facility with multi-functional social innovation institute that shall house skill development centers, spaces for vocational workshops, a research centre, library, medical centre, recreational facilities and living quarters for the differently-abled residents.

Apart from providing for our aging beneficiaries, this project will also cater to multiple disabilities.

How can society give back to this venture?

I would request everybody to give your love to them. Spend some time with them. Appreciate their work and buy the products which are put together by their innocent minds and beautiful hearts.

However, the most important gift that society can offer these specially-abled individuals is respect and treating them on par with normal individuals. Only through dignity and self-respect can these specially-abled individuals be integrated into society. In conclusion, I would like to reiterate that offering them dignity and respect is not charity but their inalienable right.