Friday, 6 April 2012

Love Them

While most women find it difficult enough to run a single home for their own children, Mrs Umah Devi runs three for 138 children, most of them seriously disabled. The plucky 36-year-old widow, who is in charge of the Taman Megah Handicapped and Disabled Children’s Home is committed to carrying out her husband’s dream of providing a healthful, loving, nurturing home for these children, many of whom have been abandoned by their own families.

Her husband, S. K. ManiKumar, dreamed of starting a home for severely disabled children where they would be treated with kindness, consideration and love; trained into useful, self-sufficient adults. Having volunteered at welfare homes, he had been appalled by the conditions they were subjected to, and sometimes, by the callousness of those supposed to care for them.

ManiKumar, himself handicapped in one leg due to polio as a child, felt a special kinship for these children, many of whom were abandoned by their families. He confided in his young wife Mrs Umah Devi, a dream of starting a home for these children with everything from physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy to massage therapy. In addition, he wanted enough space for them to move around without feeling crammed and a stimulating, loving environment in which to grow and develop.

The couple met when she was only 14 and he, 22. He ran a video shop near where she lived and she used to go over and borrow videos. They fell in love, were married three years later and have three children of their own. At 36 and 44 respectively, they had been together for more than half their lives.

Umah was only 21 when ManiKumar started the centre. She was frightened at first by the children with their severe disabilities. “He said if they were our children, you would love them anyway. They are our children. Love them.”

It took her all of one week to adjust.

They started with eight special needs children and now look after 138, spread out between three different houses. Many got to hear about the centre through word of mouth or were referred to it by the various welfare societies. It is hugely popular and there are about 350 special needs children on the waiting list.

Among other things, ManiKumar envisioned teaching them how to garden so they could grow their own food, once they were able buy land for the purpose. He also wanted them to learn how to make small souvenirs which could be sold to support themselves.

The dream was slowly unfolding according to plan, when ManiKumar was tragically killed in a road accident earlier this year, leaving his wife with both her grief and the sole responsibility for the three houses.

Umah’s family has come through for her in a wonderful way, helping out as much as they could when the tragedy struck. The story was featured in the local newspapers and a team of volunteers turned up to help as well.

However, as much as other people can help, it is up to Umah herself to ensure that her husband’s dream is realized. While dealing with her grief, this amazing lady, who dropped out of school in Standard Six, will also have to learn English and raise funds to buy the properties to house the children, as well as to pay full time professional staff.

Although the future seems a little daunting, she is confident that she will be equipped to face the challenges ahead as they come up: “Through his own great love, my husband taught me to love them. And his love continues to guide me so I know I will be able to deal with whatever is in store. The strength will come from somewhere. It always has.”

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