US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Slideshow: Serving children with disabilities in India

By Jo McGowan | Print this pagePrint |
Twenty years ago, parents of children with disabilities in India had almost nowhere to turn. Since then, what began as one small school has become a game-changer.

We have it on good authority that one child can change history. There is no doubt that Moy Moy did that for my family; many say she did it for the city of Dehradun in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas, too.

When my husband and I adopted Moy Moy, she weighed just shy of two and a half pounds. Her mother had gone into premature labor while on a bus. The bus pulled over and Moy Moy was born on the side of the road, then wrapped in a shawl and left at a local hospital. When we brought her home two weeks later, we had no idea how drastically our lives had just changed.

Moy Moy’s disabilities revealed themselves to us gradually: In addition to the cerebral palsy she was born with, she has a degenerative condition which has progressed slowly over time. Now 23, she uses a wheelchair, eats through a tube, and speaks only with her eyes.

But our faith teaches us that suffering, when accepted and embraced, can be redemptive. Moy Moy’s disabilities inspired me to start a school for her in 1994, as there was no school I would have considered sending her to in our town at that time.

It was meant to be a neighborhood initiative. But one thing kept leading to the next, and before long, our little school had become a mini-empire with seven centers, 120 staff, hundreds of children receiving an education and therapy every day, thousands of parents, health workers, and teachers trained, and a national policy-level presence.

It is a revolution—one that is desperately needed in India—where the government is only now beginning to acknowledge the extent of the problem. Most disabled children are excluded from school, nearly 75 percent of disabled adults are unemployed, and there are virtually no accessible buildings or transportation. By partnering with the government and dozens of like-minded progressive organizations across India, we are beginning to change that reality.

Named for an inspiring local teacher, the Latika Roy Foundation’s vision is an inclusive world where children grow up together and disability is just one part of their full, exciting lives.

Here is a slideshow of some of the daily activities that happen at Latika Vihar school. Make sure you don't miss the captions that accompany each photograph.

This article was featured in the October 2013 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 78, No. 10, pages 28-33).

Image: All photographs by Ken Carl, except for photo 12, which is by Jo McGowan

Ken Carl is an award-winning Chicago-based photographer. He visited the Latika Roy Foundation in Dehradun, India, with Momenta, an organization that promotes photography for social change.