There are people in the world who see a problem and walk the other direction, and then there are people who stare the problem in the face, ask God what can be done, and respond in obedience to the often long, tough, amazing road ahead.
Geeta Mondol is the latter. Her problem was the lack of appropriate education for her son diagnosed with autism, and the lack of care for all differently abled children in her city of New Delhi, India.
“People said it was his karma; let him work it out with his birth,” she says. To which her spirit revolted and she said to herself, Where are the Christians?! Autism is not a curse, and those who have it are equally made in the image of God–that is the biblical worldview. They are not to be cast out or tied to their beds, as is done to some of the children.
In India, Geeta describes, running schools has turned into a profit-making activity. Many classrooms have 60 children per teacher, and her son wasn’t getting the attention he needed.
“Until very recently, Christian schools were well known in the country for their discipline and inculcating good values among students; similarly, Christian hospitals were renowned for their quality service,” Geeta says. Where are the Christians when it comes to differently abled children and their families?
When Geeta prayed about this, God responded with a vision which has grown over the past five years into the robust Ashish Centre: an early intervention center for differently abled children and their families. “Ashish” means “blessing” in Hindi, reinforcing that all children are blessings from God.
Here, children participate in occupational, speech and behavioral therapies and receive vocational education. The Centre offers support groups for parents and training for other organizations.
Presently, in Hindi, the national language of India, there is only one word to encompass the wide range of mental challenges: “pagal,” translated as “mad.”
“There are many types of disabilities,” writes Geeta, “and working with them requires skill, patience, creativity, intelligence, and a certain level of tenacity along with warmth … but most of all, what is required is FAITH and LOVE. Faith that makes us learners at HIS feet. We ask the Creator how to work with HIS creation. We look upon our children as being made in HIS image: unique, loved, and knit by God’s own hand.”
In 2007, this Centre opened its doors with 10 students. Today, there are 300 children on the waiting list and another 250 waiting to get onto the waiting list. Half of the students are receiving scholarships because, while the program is costly, the center has committed to serving everyone, regardless of caste, creed, race, religion or any other factor.
In contrast to traditional schools, at the Ashish Centre, there is one trained educator for every four children, plus one assistant for every two children.
“When you start viewing them differently,” says Geeta, “they start responding differently. When they start responding differently, you see improvement.” All children show 50-percent improvement in the first year, she says.
Many others have noted the effectiveness of the Asish Centre. In 2011, the Centre’s thrift store won the Intel Social Innovation Award for employing people with mental challenges. Replicating the Centre’s model, Geeta was invited to help set up a center in the Indian city of Bangalore, and the government of a nearby country now is asking her assistance. She also has seen transformation in her own staff as a result of the values upheld by the Centre.
These are the biblical values the Centre teaches and exercises:
- Each child is created in the image of God.
- Each child is created for a purpose.
- Each child is born with the potential to achieve that purpose.
- No one is exempt from giving back to society.
- All of us are differently abled.
Watch Geeta expound on this in under a minute:
Geeta and Raaj, her husband, are long-time friends of the DNA and formed their training for the Asish Centre from DNA worldview materials. Geeta first encountered the DNA at a Vision Conference in India in the ‘90s (when the DNA was still part of Food for the Hungry). From there, she joined a small team in India which was actively sharing these worldview teachings. She formally launched the Ashish Centre in 2007.
“While working with children who have special needs,” says Geeta, “what is required is not just a degree or a diploma in special education. What is required is the heart of a mother, the faith of a believer, and the humility of a person who may not have all the answers but does know One who has all the answers.”