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Walking towards hope

R Sriram Srinivas, who has multiple disabilities—mental retardation and spastic diplegia—takes a breather during his yoga session at home. P Settu, his yoga therapist, who has been teaching Sriram two years now, says that Sriram used to be inattentive and restless, but now follows instructions well and has mellowed down significantly.  



Images and text by Naveen P M

Walking towards hope (2/9)

M Vanitha, Sriram's teacher, helps Sriram wear his dance apparel before the start of the 'World Differently Abled Day Cultural Programme' at Don Guanella Special School in Chennai. Due to Sriram's condition, simple tasks such as putting on clothes can become a chore and he often ends up needing some assistance. 


Walking towards hope (3/9)

Sriram rides his bicycle—fitted with a custom-made backrest—flanked by special education teacher, G V Arumugam. Arumugam has known Sriram for 15 years and was initially hired to teach him basic reading and writing skills. On Sriram's parents' request, he started to assist Sriram in walking and then taught him how to ride a bicycle so he could improve his muscle tone. 

Read Sriram's story here


Walking towards hope (4/9)

R Devi helps Sriram read a clock at Sai Sri Ram Training Centre. Sriram has difficulty reading and writing even basic words, and has a hard time grasping universal concepts such as time, date, and money. Devi is Sriram's favorite teacher. Sai Sri Ram Training Centre has eight students with special needs, two teachers, and a domestic help. The school functions from 10 am to 3 pm and keeps the students busy with a plethora of activities such as coloring, computer games, and yoga.


Walking towards hope (5/9)

M R Karthik, physical trainer, subjects Sriram to one of the many "balancing exercises" to improve his balance and correct his "scissor gait". Karthik has been training Sriram for the last two years. "In the beginning, Sriram could hardly stand for a minute on his own and displayed a lot of traits commonly seen in persons with Intellectual Disability (ID), such as lack of eye contact, droning, drooling...," says Karthik.

Read Sriram's story here


Walking towards hope (6/9)

Sriram and his classmates from Sai Sri Ram Training Centre perform to a medley of Bollywood songs at the 'World Differently Abled Day Cultural Programme' held in Don Guanella Special School, Chennai. P Dharani Kumar, a professional choreographer, composed the dance moves for this performance. He visits the school every weekend to teach dance to these students. "Sriram usually has trouble recollecting and executing my dance moves but he stepped his game up through some spontaneous moves," he said. 

Read Sriram's story here

Walking towards hope (7/9)

Sriram is ecstatic after receiving a silver medal for the Standing Long Jump event. His driver, D Alvin (right), and Sriram's mother, R Vanitha, gather around to congratulate him, at the Special Olympics Sports Meet held on YMCA Grounds, Chennai. Sriram shares a special bond with Alvin and the two can often be seen engaging in healthy banter. 


Walking towards hope (8/9)

Sriram does a lap of backstroke at The League Club, Chennai. His parents introduced him to swimming at the age of seven after a doctor suggested hydropathy as treatment. Sriram has been training under U Sathish Kumar, swim coach for children with special needs, for one year now. Sriram won four gold medals in as many events at two swim meets for para-athletes held last year in Tamil Nadu.


Walking towards hope (9/9)

Dr J Paul Devasagayam, Area Director, Special Olympics Bharat, Tamil Nadu, reviews Sriram Srinivas's progress with his mother, R Vanitha, during one of their monthly meetings at his 100-square-foot office in Purasawalkam, Chennai.


Suicide prevention: Broken but here’s how you can help

A survivor talks of how to engage with someone who is contemplating suicide
Shailaja Vishwanath
Another day dawns and with it comes the news of a 23-year-old boy killing himself by jumping off the 19th floor of a building in Mumbai. Why this strikes an all-too familiar chord with me is because I was 23 when I first contemplated suicide.
23, when the world is just opening up before you.
23, when you’ve stepped into a life of adulthood, responsibility and a career, perhaps marriage.
23, when things ideally look all rosy and tinted with those pink shades of joy and happiness.
Failure is hard to take, I know. It’s easy to read reams of articles on the value of failure and how it builds character but it takes a special kind of resilience to keep getting up once you’ve fallen for the fiftieth time.
Disappointments are a part of life but when they happen repeatedly, you begin to wonder if Lady Luck has just decided not to smile on you at all.
Deep in the grip of depression and bipolar disorder, I stood on the balcony of my third floor home one morning and looked at the concrete below. At that moment, it seemed easy, too easy, to just take that flying leap and end it once and for all.
I didn’t, thanks largely to a very supportive family and close friends. My friends would come over and for the most part, just sit with me, as I stared into the distance. They’d listen to me ramble deliriously about a fictitious person who was out to get my family. They’d never say a word in reproach but hold my hand and squeeze it in solidarity.
I know how people use the same phrases over and over again to dissuade people from committing suicide:
‘Think of your family. How would they feel?’
‘Nothing can be that bad. Don’t take such an extreme step.’
‘Do you think you’re the only one with problems? Don’t you know there are people more miserable than you and they’re surviving?’
The key problem with these ‘well-meaning’ statements is this: they assign blame and shame.
Blame and shame never works for a person who has suicidal thoughts. They’re already in the grip of the worst kind of torture. Think of a million needles in your head, boring into your skull and repeatedly whispering, ‘You’re good for nothing. You don’t matter. You should just stop existing.’ Now picture a well-meaning person coming along and reinforcing that voice in your head. What would you do?
You know what does work? Empathy and compassion.
  • Share your stories, listen and watch for the signs when you know a person is in pain/unusually silent or unusually exuberant.
  • If you haven’t heard from a good friend in a while, call them, drop by their house, invite them out for a lunch and just listen while they talk.
  • Offer a kind and willing ear and don’t, please don’t, blame the person for feeling the way he/she does. They, literally, cannot help themselves.
  • The issue isn’t physical, but deeply chemical, an imbalance in the brain that causes mental illness or suicidal thoughts.
  • Gently broach the subject of professional help if you find the person receptive enough.
  • Keep a helpline number handy if you suspect a person may be suicidal. Don’t hesitate to call them.
I know we have ‘Suicide Prevention Day’ and ‘Mental health Awareness Month’ precisely for these reasons. To raise awareness about these issues and help train a spotlight on the increasing incidence of mental illness. But we need an ongoing dialogue to sustain the impact.
By sharing our stories, I am hoping we will do what we can to stem the occurrence of suicides.
If you or someone you know has had suicidal thoughts, here's where you can get help:
1. Parivarthan Counselling and Training Center+91 7676 602 602 or 080 65333323 (Monday  to Friday, 4 pm - 10 pm). E-mail:  ychelpline@gmail.com

2. iCall Psychosocial Helpline:  022-25521111 (Monday to Saturday, 8 AM - 10 PM). Email: icall@tiss.edu
3. SNEHA, Chennai+91 (0) 44 2464 0050 (Functions 24/7). E-mail: help@snehaindia.org. Face-to-face counseling services are also available (8 AM- 10 PM daily) at 11 Park View Road (Near Chennai Kaliappa Hospital), RA Puram, Chennai - 600 028.
Shailaja Vishwanath is a freelance writer, full-time editor and passionate blogger. She counts parenting, reading, writing, swimming and social networking among her top passions. This piece was originally published on her website shailajav.com

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