Meet the SHEROES
Meet the SHEROES - Sonalee Shyamsundar
Sonalee Shyamsundar, founder and Exe-Director of the Urmi foundation tells us why she loves working with special children and how the idea of her venture came about today. What does it take to start and run an NGO for special children?
Let's hear her
Can you tell us a little about yourself
I was born in Osmanabad. It's because of my father's job that I changed many schools. This exposed me to different types of rural as well as urban people and their life stories. After completing my post-graduation in Political science, I worked as a reporter. But gradually I realized that NGO sector is the sector where you can convert your thoughts in to actions. So for 3 years I worked with NGO's related to children from red light area, night school, special schools etc. and in the 4th yearUrmi Foundation
My elder brother Saurabh said once that degrees are not important, what is more important is how you solve the problem and takes correct decisions. I applied the same in my profession.
When did you start the Urmi Foundation and why did you choose to venture into the field?
After observing the difference in treatment toward special children in Sri Lanka and India I decided to take up this issue and did research for 1 year with special children from the community and BMC special schools. I had come across many cases where parents having a special child feel it's a burden and refuse their education along with medical expenses.
The very shocking comment I still remember and inspires me to work is "my child is special hence is not capable to take care of me or my wife when we grow old, thus why should I invest in his education?" .
Another reply received was,"I was cursed, so I have a special child".
It was unbelievable to hear such words in Mumbai. On the other hand the research indicated the loopholes in education system, infrastructure and awareness. Thus Urmi Foundation was formed and designed its triad model addressing social and academic upliftment through its programs with BMC special schools and communities. In the year 2012 Urmi Foundation was founded and currently we have adopted 4 BMC special schools and communities and are supporting more than 250 special children their parents with dedicated team and volunteers.
After 3 years Urmi Foundation hired its own special student Baharati to implement the program.
Running an NGO versus a corporate job, what are the key similarities and difference working in both spheres?
Now days NGOs are no less competitive than corporates, it has its own systems, process, budget and quantitative and qualitative measurement tool, HR policies etc. However, the major difference is gestation period. Corporates expect things or change instantly which is impossible. Talking about special children, they show growth very slowly due to their limited retention. According to principles of Special education, a special child takes 3 years to complete one academic year.
What are the top 3 things to keep in mind when running an NGO in India?
2. Frequent evaluation of the action
3. Core problem understanding
Can you tell us what the key areas of work at the Urmi Foundation are?
Urmi Foundation aims to uplift social and academic condition of the special children. Our program is divided into 2 parts 1) In-school (with BCM special school) 2) out-school (communities and houses) our program includes therapeutic support along with special education and counselling, in the most scientific ways with specially designed evaluation techniques.
In India, do you think there is enough concern / awareness about development disabilities?
I think it is more of ignorance and lack of information than concern. Definitely apathy towards special children/ disability is more in the communities than educated families. However, this issue of disability is attached with a stigma, which is difficult to address in one shot. Our 90% volunteers were clueless about disability, its reasons, and solutions etc. I won't say its deliberate but we hesitate to speak about disability openly and in public, consequently people are not aware about it.
What are your future plans for Urmi Foundation?
We would like to reach maximum children with ultramodern facilities, and want to make BMC special schools ideal and impactful education institutions, since Mumbai is the only corporation running special schools in India.