Lending a handhttps://indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/lending-a-hand/

Lending a hand

Cynthia Baptista knew early in life that she wanted to help the physically-challenged.

Cynthia Baptista’s Abhang Seva has become a source of support and joy for over 450 physically-challenged individuals and their families

Cynthia Baptista knew early in life that she wanted to help the physically-challenged. Having suffered a polio attack at the age of five which left her 40 per cent handicapped in the right leg,she had experienced the problems. “I wanted to help such individuals become independent and lead a full life,” she says. In 1989,she started Abhang Seva,an association for the physically-challenged,which has become a source of support and joy for over 450 such individuals and their families.

The organisation provides guidance to the differently-abled in the form of financial help,medical check-ups and disability certificate camps. “We also help them in procuring aids such as callipers which are expensive,” says Baptista. The members range from children to the elderly,many of them fisherfolk,who have been affected by polio.

Her experience with mentally-challenged children,as a teacher in a Vasai school,also prompted Baptista to start Abhang Seva,a school for special children in 1994. The school caters to the age group of five to 18 who are taught how to read and write through games,art and visual aids,with a workshop on making doormats and paper bags for those above 18 years of age. Most of them are from an economically weak background and have low IQ. Many of them are both physically and mentally-challenged. “Each one is special because they have a special story to tell. They are extremely loving and are like family to us,” says Robert Gomes,a teacher at the school.

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The school,which started with five children in 1994 in a rented classroom,is now housed in Abhang Bhavan,built solely through donation,with 21 students attending. More than 80 individuals have been schooled here till date. And their efforts have borne fruit with some children having been transferred to regular schools and many having got jobs in factories and shops.

A unique aspect of Abhang Seva is that it takes its members for annual picnics to national or international locations,despite their disabilities.”They may be physically-challenged but their hearts are not. Even they feel like going out and enjoying and we do everything to make them happy,” says Baptista. Sometimes volunteers even carry the members on their backs for long distances during a picnic. They also organise an annual rally in May,which is a day full of games,sports,dance,music and entertainment and is attended by around 300 members.

Both initiatives work solely through donation and the dedicated,selfless and untiring work of around 50 volunteers,says Baptista. “We have volunteers from all age groups. Our youth volunteers set aside office leaves to come here and work for the welfare of the people,“ says Baptista,a single woman who has dedicated her life to the cause after retiring from her teaching career of 40 years.

It is not always smooth sailing for such such initiatives,with many hurdles along the way,says Baptista,but it is worth the effort just to be able to provide a special experience,like the time when 102 members of the association met the Pope during their trip to Rome. “Our guide Father Michael Gonsalves says if you fight for things,they have a way of working out,” says Baptista.