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A beach walk to raise awareness & support for children with developmental disabilities

Walking 55 kilometres at a stretch would make even a workout addict think twice. Make that a walk that starts early in the morning, when the sun is yet to rise, and the prospect would perhaps put off most of us.

That was clearly not the case for the over 80 people who gathered in Goa for Ummeed Child Development Centre's annual 55-km walk that aims to raise awareness about developmental disabilities, as well as funds to support the NGO's work among children and families.

Over 1,000 kids & families supported at Ummeed's Mumbai clinic each year

Since 2001, Ummeed has been offering specialised care for most developmental disabilities and works across training, research and advocacy. It is now one India's leading NGOs, widely known for its work in the field of children with disabilities.

The walk aims to raise awareness about the entire range of developmental disabilities like autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, ADHD, to name just a few. India has over 52 million children with developmental disabilities, yet less than one-fourth have access to quality care.

Just 1 one developmental paediatrician for 500,000 children in India

The walk started eight years ago with three walking enthusiasts. One of them was Kaushik Parasnis, a Mumbai-based entrepreneur. "My friend and I are avid walkers and we did a 55-km walk in South Goa, which has one of the longest contiguous beach stretches in the world", says Parasnis. "I thought there may be others who want to do this and it struck me that the walk could be leveraged to raise funds".

The first walk raised Rs 14 lakh, mainly through friends. That has grown substantially with more people joining in through the years.

"In 2017, we managed to raise 15-20% of Ummeed's annual budget from the walk that year. Many of those who participate know someone with a developmental disability. Awareness has grown with the growing number of media reports and with more families opening up about it" - Anita Limaye, CEO, Ummeed

This year, there were walkers from cities like Delhi, Pune and Bengaluru, as well as Muscat and Dubai, adds Limaye.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to creating awareness because India has just one developmental paediatrician for 500,000 kids.

"We still have a long way to go. Even at mainstream schools in a city like Mumbai, parents are in denial when a problem is flagged off. It is only when the academic pressure increases when the child is in class 8, that parents take note. Things have improved for sure, but there is a still a major gap" - Kaushik Paranis, Co-founder, Ummeed Walk

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