My journey with ‘Pehel’, My take by Dr Kinjal Chandra
In my take this week, we feature Dr Kinjal Chandra, a pediatric occupational therapist who has been awarded by the President Pranab Mukherjee for her work.
It was 2005, that time of the year when HSC results are out and everyone is in the hustle bustle of choosing a career. I was pretty sorted about choosing Dentistry, but destiny had different plans. Some personal issues left me with only one option: Occupational Therapy, something that I hadn’t even heard about. But what I was considering the worst phase of my life was going to be the biggest turning point one day.
One would see me as the least interested student in the college, usually tired, not interacting much, sitting alone in library, canteen & break time. It was a course of 4.5 year and I was somehow managing to move through with little to no excitement.
During my internship, I had my first brush with the world of Developmental Disability. I was posted in pediatrics where I distinctly remember holding him for therapy and he curled his tiny fingers around my finger, something changed in me that day. A realization struck that of the whole day when I was in this room full of kids, it soothed my pain and loneliness. I had found my calling.
But things took a turn when after graduation as I applied for jobs in private hospitals, I was constantly rejected with the reasons like they didn’t have Occupational Therapy department as they weren’t aware about something like this existing and hence didn’t want to hire any Otist. It resulted in a lot of frustration and anger. I started working with private clinics and NGOs in Mumbai.
During my experience, I came to terms with the darker side of the story, of lives that the parents of children with developmental disabilities like Autism, Down Syndrome, Learning Disability, Cerebral Palsy, etc. were going through.
Societal stigma, rejection for school admissions, labeling of children, poor awareness amongst teacher and school authorities, over sympathizing with parents or feeling sorry for these kids where just a few issues that were constantly bothering the parents.
That’s when ” Pehel Pediatric Therapy Centre” was born.
A “Pehel, start of a journey that would shape and sooth the anger, frustration and helplessness, burning not only within me but thousands of lives that I would touch in the future. With Pehel, I started providing therapy on one end and free lectures/talks for preschools in and around Mumbai, targeting preschool teachers educating them about identifying red flags of developmental disorders resulting in early identification and intervention.
It didn’t come easy, schools weren’t open about it, showing no interest in learning about developmental issues and many a times ignoring the facts that they have any such child with them hence not needing any information about it. But I was determined to not give up this time.
There was me running a relay race between clinic, schools, waiting in ques to meet the concerned authority, providing talks free of cost, taking awareness campaigns in community organizations, Facebook live sessions, radio interviews and conducting street plays in public gardens and railway stations educating the masses about identification, intervention and acceptance.
Real Life Amir Khan
I was laughed on, advised by many to focus on my career and earn money but that wouldn’t stop me now. The initiative gradually took momentum and online blog “scrollthrough published an article about my work- “Meet the real life Amir Khan. Soon local news channels and newspapers had good things to say about my efforts. People started approaching me, wanting to help me in whatever little way they could. And came the day that would change my life 360 degree.
I was recognized as one of the “100 Women Achiever of India, an initiative by Ministry of Women and Child Development. I was invited for reception lunch by the President of India, Hon. Shri. Pranab Mukherjee in Rashtrapati Bhavan in 2016. The day when a girl, her calling, children, parents and their issues finally got a face, the recognition that was long due.
The saying “ Pyaar se dekar dekho, Pyaar hi paoge tum holds absolutely true when a well known college shot a documentary film on the work done at Pehel. When children come for therapy from various countries and we get messages and calls from strangers on social media not only from India but also from Germany, America, South Africa, Dubai and Canada, when they come across any child facing similar issues, reaching out for guidance and help.
When teachers show interest in understanding about a particular child they have in their class and ways of handling and accommodating them in the school openheartedly.
It is beyond happiness when Pehel witnesses little victories not only in providing therapy results but also changing outlook of people towards children, one mindset at a time. The human chain is increasing multifold with people, organizations and communities pouring in, joining Pehel to take the initiative as far as we can, and impacting as many lives as possible.