Project India: Photos Show Early Intervention at Work

Kindred spirits: A child arriving with his mother stops to offer a proper Indian greeting to the gatekeeper. The man was once a student at the special needs center and now maintains the front gate.

Dehradun, India

Not long ago, disabled children in India had not a scintilla of hope. They often were abandoned by their families and cast aside by society. But now, thanks to organizations like the Latika Roy Foundation, many children with mental and physical challenges become more self-sufficient, are supported by their families and have the opportunity to live more fulfilling lives.

Latika Roy was started nearly 20 years ago in this northern India city by Jo Chopra, an

Learning to walk is a priority but not always easy.

American who moved to Dehradun with her Indian husband. Chopra started Latika Roy after discovering there were no schools for disabled children when she adopted a daughter with special needs.

Today, Latika Roy has a family of facilities that work with children and adults with developmental and other disabilities. Its centers provide early intervention services, education, livelihoods development, training and awareness. And if you want to see an example of a mission-driven non-profit association that understands the power of photography, check out the Latika Roy web site. The organization’s use of full-screen, color photos paints this NGO as a dynamic, credible and highly engaged organization that is making a difference. See it here!

During my second week in India, I got to work with one of Latika Roy’s project organizations, the Early Intervention Center, which works with small children who have mental and physical disabilities. The center is located in a two-story house in a neighborhood of Dehradun, a city of about 575,000 located six hours north of New Delhi by train.

The two dozen children at the facility, who are mostly age 5 and younger, have conditions like autism, cerebral palsy and down syndrome. When they come to the facility,

A therapist sings a song to a troubled child and eventually turns tears into a smile.

many cannot walk on their own or perform daily self-care tasks like getting dressed, feeding themselves or using a toilet.

“Many of the parents are just hoping to see their children start walking or talking,” said Aarti Nair, the project head.

My charge was to show the center’s counselors at work with the children and their parents. Initially, parents attend sessions with their children, leaning how to follow-up at

Wtih Mom watching, a therapist works with a child to develop touch and eye coordination.

home and reinforce the daily lessons. Having the parents attend also gives some comfort to the children, who often have trouble adjusting to new environments and challenges.

Much of the therapy and training is designed to make the children self-sufficient with daily living tasks. And that often can start with learning to walk. Each of the counselors is usually working with up to four children, performing exercises as simple as strengthening leg and torso muscles to more complicated tasks such as eating and returning plates and glasses to the center’s kitchen.

As I shot photos for three days I saw frustrated children erupt in tears and then just seconds later be smiling and laughing again. As I watched all this through the camera

After the morning sessions end, the staff has time for lunch.

lens it was apparent to me these children are in excellent hands. I’ve never seen such patience as I saw in the therapists and teachers, and judging by the plentiful spontaneous smiles, these people find true joy and meaning in their work.

My favorite image for the week is the one that starts off this story. A young child accompanied by his mother has arrived for his sessions at the center. He spontaneously stopped to greet the gatekeeper, an expression of kinship that most of us will never fully understand. Mayank, the gatekeeper, is an adult with special needs and was enrolled at the center many years ago. It’s now up to him to mind the gate and make sure the children are secure, and serves as a reminder to parents about why they make the daily trek to the center.

“He does it well,” Chopra said, “and in the process, he reassures many parents that their own children can also succeed in life.”

Blowing bubbles may seem like play but here it is a skills-building exercise.

Eating is not always pleasurable for the children and requires work with a therapist.

A child smiles as his therapist helps him identify objects in a children's book.

Clockwise: A child's feet with walking braces; a father works with his daughter; a counselor and child play a computer game and a boy shows he's ready to answer a telephone.

The children loved playing in this box of colorful balls.

Left: This child is not happy about doing walking exercises. Right: Lost in his own world, this boy waits for a parent.

At the end of the day, braces rest on a cabinet. They give children the support they need to take their first steps.


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3 Responses to Project India: Photos Show Early Intervention at Work

  1. Jo Chopra says:

    Wow, Robert – this is STUNNING.

    The photos, of course, are superb. I already knew that. But the depth of understanding in your writing astonishes me. You’ve captured our spirit and our philosophy so perfectly. No offense to journalists, but it’s so seldom that we see such clarity and insight about what we do and why we do it.

    Thank you so much – again and again. I am going to feature it in my blog right now.

  2. Pingback: A Photo Journalist Gets It Right | Latika Roy Foundation

  3. Nicola Husain says:

    Robert – this is a wonderful portrayal of the excellent work carried out at the Latika Roy Foundation. I recently left Dehradun but seeing your photos really made me smile and brought back many memories!

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