The birth of a child is considered the happiest moment in a new mother’s life. For Swati Mohite too, this was a momentous occasion. Unfortunately, nature was to have its own say. About 25 years ago, Swati and Mahendra Mohite’s daughter was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and severe intellectual disability. Swati was an ordinary homemaker living in Pen, a small town about 60 kilometers outside Mumbai in Raigad district of Maharashtra.
But the diagnosis of her child spurred something extraordinary in her. Rallying all her courage, Swati decided to pursue a B.Ed. in special education so she could give her daughter a more fulfilled life. Swati’s motherly instinct towards her daughter made her rise above the tragedy and kindled compassion that extended to other children like her daughter. Swati did not charge them a penny. She even got others in her family and network of friends to help with physiotherapy. “My daughter is my inspiration and the reason for Aai Day Care’s existence,” says Swati.
The kind and committed approach that Swati and her colleagues provided brought a lot of appreciation and goodwill from the people in Pen and surrounding villages. Soon, she was taking care of 15 children in her own home. A survey of Pen and nearby areas also revealed that there were a significant number of differently-abled persons who would greatly benefit by the presence of a dedicated facility that would cater to their specific needs. And thus, the idea for Aai Day Care Centre was born. Swati Mohite, along with Dr Shilpa and Sanjay Thakur, Adv. Satish Mhatre, Shri. Sachin Rajeshirke, Shri. Santosh Chavan and Mrs Premlata Patil established the NGO on June 15, 2010. The word ‘Aai’ in Marathi means mother and it was with the love, kindness and dedication of a mother that the Centre wished to care for differently-abled children and adults.
Today, Swati is mother to 52 differently-abled students at the Aai Day Care Centre, ranging from 3 to 50 years. The school has 13 staff members including two drivers, two caretakers and teachers. Most of the staff is paid through the donations collected by the school as only 4-5 children are able to afford the fees. Students are divided into seven standards starting with pre-primary level and going up to the ‘independent’ level, depending on their physical and cognitive advancement.
Students who are borderline or slow learners are taught according to the NIOS (National Institute of Open School) syllabus and students who have gone through pre- primary and primary levels and are of 15-17 years move to pre- vocational level. They are taught to make paper bags, rakhis, 4-5 inch size mushak which are used during Ganpati and painting diyas for Diwali. After this comes the vocational level. At this stage, students are able to go to the next level of designing, creating mushak that are 1 ft in size as well as making office files, floating candles and lanterns. The final learning stage for the students is the independent level, consisting of students who are able to create, colour, decorate and pack on their own. Swati proudly shares that there are currently 16 students at the school who have reached this level.
Each year, more than 20,000 mushak are hand-shaped, coloured and decorated for Ganpati. These are then bought by the local Ganpati karkhanas or workshops that Pen is famous for. The workshops supply the materials for making clay mushak, nagoba (baby snakes), modaks (small and large) for the purpose of decorating the Ganesh idol. Similarly, students make diyas, floating candles and lanterns for Diwali which are sold in small and large orders.
Each month the students receive an honorarium with an increment in June of every year that can be used towards their future treatment, education and other expenses. “Our effort is to give the students a means to support themselves and feel like they too can contribute to their household,” says Swati. Among her stand-out students are Veena Bhandarkar, 25, who joined the school in 2010 and Jintendra Deshmukh, 28, who joined the school last year after going through a terrible accident. Veena is now completely independent and creates decorations for Diwali from her home. Jintendra on the other hand makes 200-250 paper bags from old newspapers and supplies these to medical stores.
Thanks to the simple but conviction-filled pitch by Swati, the Centre has caught the attention of donors, builders and corporates which are now funding a hostel for the students. Such actions reinforce that goodness attracts goodness. “The work has already begun. The building will have three floors and will be ready by the end of January next year,” says Swati. “For the hostel we will need volunteers but also caretaker staff to look after the kids. We will also need a warden and more teachers. My request is for people to help us with donations so that we can afford to pay salaries to these people. Without a salary, it will be difficult for anyone to stay on and help the children.” The Centre is also looking for a speech therapist who can join on a full-time basis. “For younger kids this is very essential, and as of now, we are unable to meet the growing demand.”
Swati’s parting words are full of hope and gratitude. “Unfortunately, nature has been unfair to impose disability on these children. But we can minimize it’s after-effects by helping them with physical and mental wellbeing and skills to live independently. Through this institute, and with the help of generous people like you, we have been able to shoulder this responsibility.”
In Swati we saw a committed and zealous community worker. It was only a few weeks ago that we came across Aai Day Care Centre through their brochure, appealing to donors to order their wonderful Diwali decorations. Our thoughts immediately went to how difficult it would be to sell the beautiful Diwali inventory made by the kids during the pandemic. Giving Circle’s foundational principle is to ease the marketing and technological pain for such Changemakers. And so, we decided to lend a helping hand and have made her a part of our Diwali Giving Campaign. To buy their amazing Diwali decoration hampers, please click here.