Muskan Foundation: Restoring Hope & Spreading Smiles

Dr. Dipti Gandhi | Founder & CEO | MUSKAN FOUNDATION Centre
Dr. Dipti Gandhi | Founder & CEO | MUSKAN FOUNDATION Centre

India faces an overwhelming crisis with a huge number of individuals affected by Multiple Disabilities with Visual Impairment (MDVI). While many rehabilitation centers exist, a gap in the services provided persists. The costs are high, services are limited, and families have to navigate multiple centers for their loved ones. The absence of a trans-disciplinary approach, where specialists collaborate seamlessly, adds to these challenges.

Enter Dr. Dipti Gandhi, an inspiring leader with a passion for making a difference. Recognizing the need for a holistic solution, she envisioned a center where all necessary services would be accessible under one roof, with a trans-disciplinary approach. This vision laid the foundation for the Muskan Foundation for People with Multiple Disabilities. This innovative institution, founded by Dr. Dipti, is rewriting the narrative of rehabilitation for those struggling with MDVI.

Armed with a background in special education, Dr. Dipti is a nationally renowned low-vision consultant, WHO-trained master trainer, and mentor in the disability sector, with a Doctorate Degree from Thames University. Fuelled by her passion for societal contribution, she embarked on a journey into rehabilitation. Starting in 1995, she ventured into the field when the concept of low vision was still in its infancy. Trained by the World Health Organization (WHO) in low vision, her unique blend of skills and dedication positioned her at the forefront of rehabilitation.

The Muskan Foundation operates with a mission to maximize the potential of children with MDVI through customized, low-cost therapies and special education – all conveniently available under one roof. Empowering parents with knowledge, skills, and confidence to support their child’s unique needs is a cornerstone of the Muskan Foundation’s approach.

Muskan Foundation has etched its name in gold under the leadership of Dr. Dipti in the vast landscape of Indian rehabilitation. Its story is not just about overcoming obstacles but creating waves of wonder in a challenging field.

Dual Commitment to Care

Dr. Dipti provides insights into the principles guiding Muskan’s evolution. She articulates the foundation’s commitment to becoming the voice for children with multiple disabilities, encapsulating the essence of their mission.

At the core of Muskan Foundation’s ethos lies a dedication to serving the most vulnerable. Dr. Dipti emphasizes, “We provide services to the poorest of the poor, and all our services are under one roof.”

Affordability and quality are twin pillars supporting the Muskan Foundation’s services. Dr. Dipti proudly declares, “The services are cost-effective and of good quality.”

Understanding the uniqueness of each child, the centre adopts individualized programs. “Every child with multiple disabilities is different. So, every child has a plan designed for them,” notes Dr. Dipti. Therapists and special educators collaborate to tailor strategies, recognizing the distinctive goals of each child.

Recognizing the integral role of parents in a child’s journey, the centre implements a parent empowerment and counselling program. Dr. Dipti affirms, “We include parents as our partners and empower them in every way.”

Investing in the continuous development of its staff, the Muskan Foundation prioritizes capacity building. “We believe that our staff is trained in the best skills,” states Dr. Dipti. Through ongoing training, including in-house sessions and Buddy training, the organization ensures that its educators stay updated on the latest trends and technologies, enhancing both their confidence and knowledge-sharing capabilities.

Transforming Lives Through Comprehensive Programs

Muskan Foundation offers a diverse array of services and programs carefully designed to cater to the unique needs of children with multiple disabilities and their families. Here’s an insightful glimpse into the initiatives that define the foundation’s approach:

  1. Special Education and Therapies:

– Tailoring education and therapies to the individual needs of each child.

– Maintaining an intimate 1:4 teacher-student ratio, which adjusts to 1:1 in cases of extreme disability.

  1. Capacity Building for Staff:

– Recognizing the crucial role of staff, Muskan Foundation prioritizes continuous capacity building.

– Regular training sessions ensure that staff members are equipped with the latest skills to deliver the best possible care.

  1. Community Awareness Programs:

– Extending beyond the confines of the center, Muskan Foundation actively engages in awareness programs.

– Targeting various community settings, schools, colleges, public spaces, and corporate environments, the programs aim to promote understanding and empathy towards individuals with disabilities.

  1. Pathways to Vocational Training:

– While not housing a vocational center, Muskan Foundation initiates pre-vocational training for children.

– Preparing children for transition, this program equips them with skills that become invaluable when they reach the age of 18 and transition to vocational centres.

  1. Muskan Association for Parents and Professionals (MAPP):

– Recognizing the integral role of parents, MAPP empowers them with a variety of training and workshops.

– Topics range from essential caregiving skills to addressing specific demands such as feeding skills, protection against abuse, and sex education for children with disabilities.

– Emphasizing recreational activities, parents engage in workshops like Warli painting, flower making, or mask making, encouraging a sense of community and skill-sharing.

Overcoming Challenges in Rehabilitation

The rehabilitation industry in India is filled with challenges that demand innovative solutions and relentless dedication. Dr. Dipti sheds light on the hurdles faced by professionals in the industry and the proactive measures taken to address them.

  1. Late Identification of Multiple Disabilities:

– A significant challenge arises from the delayed identification of children with multiple disabilities. The primary disability often takes precedence, leaving secondary disabilities unnoticed.

– Dr. Dipti expresses concern about the impact of delayed interventions, stating, “When they come to us very late, the impact of our interventions does not turn out that good/effective.”

  1. Social Acceptance of Children with Disabilities:

– Society’s reluctance to accept children with disabilities poses a considerable barrier. Parents often encounter stigmatization and judgment in public spaces.

– Dr. Dipti emphasizes the need for societal acceptance and tackles this challenge through Muskan Foundation’s awareness programs.

  1. Accessibility Issues:

– Accessibility remains a formidable challenge for children with multiple disabilities. Conventional modes of travel, such as buses and trains, often prove impractical.

– Muskan Foundation addresses this by sponsoring transportation for those who cannot afford it. Dr. Dipti actively advocates for improved infrastructures through awareness programs, compelling institutions to reconsider accessibility for everyone.

  1. High Cost of Services:

– The high cost of rehabilitation services poses a significant obstacle. Muskan Foundation endeavours to provide cost-effective and affordable services, overcoming financial constraints.

– The foundation relies on support from Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSRs) to sponsor children, ensuring that financial barriers do not hinder access to vital services.

In the face of these challenges, Muskan Foundation stands resilient, leveraging awareness programs, advocacy, and strategic partnerships to create a more inclusive environment for children with multiple disabilities.

Bridging Horizons

Muskan Foundation is breaking down barriers and promoting inclusivity for children with multiple disabilities through a range of impactful programs. Dr. Dipti shares the organization’s commitment to bridging gaps and promoting understanding in schools and beyond.

  1. Red Flags Program

– A proactive approach to early identification, the Red Flags Program equips mainstream school teachers with the tools to recognize signs of disabilities.

– Teachers from mainstream schools undergo education on gaining insight into disability, recognizing indicators and early signs of disabilities (red flags), as well as learning about accommodation and modification strategies within a classroom setting.

  1. Parallel Instruction Program

– The Parallel Instruction Program empowers Muskan Foundation’s children to attend mainstream schools simultaneously while receiving additional skills training.

– Skills such as braille, orientation mobility, sign language, and activities falling under the Expanded Core Curriculum are taught, with teachers supporting parents and mainstream school educators in creating an inclusive environment.

  1. Looking Through the Glasses of Empathy

– Dr. Dipti introduces the program aimed at younger classes, where mainstream and Muskan Foundation children collaborate on activities without the use of stigmatizing jargon.

– By engaging in shared experiences, mainstream school children naturally inquire about differences, adopting a positive understanding of disabilities.

  1. Sensitizing Programs at Schools, Colleges, the corporate sector and communities

– Customized initiatives targeting school and college students, corporate professionals, and communities are designed to elevate awareness, enhance comprehension, and foster positive attitudes toward specific topics or groups. These programs offer insights into various aspects, including Braille (a tactile reading and writing system facilitating access to written information for individuals with visual impairments), sign language (a distinctive communication method employed by children with hearing impairments and those with Multiple Disabilities and Visual Impairment MDVI).

– Orientation and Mobility skills (a technique enabling individuals with visual impairments to navigate their surroundings safely), and simulation of different groups of visual impairment – Simulation experiences, including wearing glasses that simulate various degrees of blindness and practical orientation mobility skills, create awareness and understanding. Additionally, the program covers relevant acts and laws associated with disabilities.

  1. Certificate Course on Multiple Disabilities for Teachers

– Muskan Foundation administers a certificate course designed to inspire teachers from mainstream schools, parents, and professionals from various fields to deepen their comprehension of disabilities and contribute to the creation of more inclusive educational environments. The course’s objective is to empower professionals, paraprofessionals, caregivers, and educators by imparting the knowledge and skills necessary to deliver effective support and services to individuals with disabilities. Through this initiative, Muskan Foundation strives to foster a more inclusive and supportive community for individuals with diverse needs.

– The Certificate Course on Disabilities is structured to encompass various components, including engaging lectures and hands-on experiences facilitated by seasoned professionals in treating multiple disabilities. It integrates real-life case studies for the practical application of theoretical knowledge, organized visits to disability service centers/schools, and interactive discussions to encourage the sharing of best practices. A unique feature is a one-month internship within Muskan Foundation, offering participants practical insights and skills. The course concludes with a comprehensive assessment, leading to the certification of participants who successfully complete the program.

Unlocking Potential

The concept of multiple disabilities is complex, often entangled in misidentification and inadequate assessment. At Muskan Foundation, this complex landscape is navigated with a commitment to understanding and unlocking each child’s true potential.

Consider the case of a deaf-blind child who arrived at the Muskan Foundation at the age of four. Despite having the potential to grasp cognitive concepts, reading, and writing, the child was engaged only in speech therapies, sensory integration therapy, physiotherapy, and occupational therapy which consumed the child’s four years. The interdisciplinary team at Muskan recognized the untapped potential and embarked on a journey of foundational education. Today, this deaf-blind child not only reads, writes, and does math but is also on the path to mainstream education, thanks to the expanded core curriculum skills provided by the foundation.

In another instance, a child with Cerebral Palsy faced difficulties drinking water and sitting for extended periods. Traditional therapies were sidelined due to their prohibitive costs. Muskan Foundation, with its comprehensive interdisciplinary approach, offered a conducive environment for the child’s growth. The collaborative efforts of speech therapists, physiotherapists, vision therapists, and special educators resulted in the child overcoming her fear of water. The transformative journey included adapting to drinking water with a specialized glass, marking a significant achievement. As the child progressed, the impact rippled through the family, alleviating worries and tensions, ultimately influencing the broader community.

Dr. Dipti reflects on the profound impact of rehabilitation done right, stating, “When one child changes, improves, and is rehabilitated on the right line, the family changes its perspective, and you see that it also impacts the society at large.” Muskan Foundation’s unique approach transforms individual lives and creates a ripple effect that resonates far beyond the confines of its walls, nurturing hope, understanding, and progress within the broader community.

A Calling for Compassion

With three decades devoted to the field of rehabilitation, Dr. Dipti’s journey has been one of profound fulfilment. The joy she experiences when witnessing the transformation of a child at Muskan Foundation, coupled with the heartfelt gratitude of parents, surpasses any material reward.

Reflecting on her passion for the cause, Dr. Dipti shares, “When you see a child who comes to our center, who has not got any services, and now he has changed and the parents have settled down, and parents hold my hands and say ‘Madam, only because of Muskan my child is improving.’ You feel so happy.” This joy, she emphasizes, is incomparable to any material gift.

Dr. Dipti acknowledges that the field of rehabilitation may not offer the financial rewards found in other professions. She underscores the importance of genuinely calling for the cause rather than pursuing it for monetary gains. “If you have a calling to contribute to society, to impact the lives of people, do enter the field of rehabilitation. You can impact the child and society at large, which has been very fulfilling for me.”

Deepening Impact through Four Pillars of Excellence

Muskan Foundation stands poised at the intersection of compassion and commitment, charting a course prioritizing depth over breadth. Dr. Dipti highlights the strategic focus on four key verticals that define the foundation’s holistic approach.

  1. Special Education and Therapy Program – Enhancing Service Quality:

– The first vertical centres on the education program and multiple therapies, emphasizing specialized services and multiple therapies (Vision Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Physiotherapy, Behaviour Therapy, Communication Enhancement Program) for children with multiple disabilities. Instead of expansion, the focus is on deepening and improving the quality of existing services, ensuring a more profound impact on each child’s development.

  1. Parent Empowerment Program – Strengthening Support:

– The second vertical, the Parent Empowerment Program, acknowledges the emotional challenges parents face upon learning of their child’s disability. The foundation aims to expand and restructure this program to offer comprehensive support, including mental health services and expert-led lectures through MAPP workshop (Muskan Association Of Parents and Professionals), adopting a stronger network of empowered parents.

  1. Advocacy & Awareness Program – Collaborating for Impact:

– Recognizing the power of collaboration, the Muskan Foundation seeks to join forces with Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives to amplify its Awareness Program. The goal is to create a robust and far-reaching campaign, sensitizing people nationwide to the complexities of multiple disabilities with visual impairment promoting empathy and understanding.

  1. Capacity Building – Harnessing Technological Innovation:

– The fourth vertical, Capacity Building, reflects the Muskan Foundation’s commitment to ongoing teacher training. The ongoing teacher training initiative focuses on enhancing inclusive teaching practices and updating pedagogical techniques. Teachers undergo comprehensive training to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary for fostering inclusive learning environments, ensuring tailored support for students with diverse abilities. The program also emphasizes the integration of contemporary teaching methodologies, incorporating the latest educational practices and technology to enrich the overall learning experience. By addressing these aspects, the initiative strives to empower educators with the tools they need to cater to the diverse needs of all students.

Dr. Dipti briefly summarizes the foundation’s future trajectory: “Instead of just expanding right and left and increasing the number of centres, we want to go deeper into all our four verticals and bring in quality to whatever we are doing.”

Empower Through Action

Muskan Foundation is committed to enhancing the lives of children with multiple disabilities and seeks volunteers for both the operations and program teams.

Opportunities for Involvement:

  1. Event Participation:

– Volunteers can actively engage in events such as Sports Day or Annual Day, taking on roles as judges or contributing their skills in software development.

  1. Program Support:

– Volunteers are encouraged to contribute to program-related activities, including the creation of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), systems development, and providing training to teachers in soft skills and technology.

  1. Teacher Training:

– Assistance in enhancing teachers’ skills, particularly in areas such as Microsoft Office applications, Excel, and PowerPoint, is welcomed.

  1. Fundraising Support:

– Volunteers can play a crucial role in helping Muskan Foundation overcome the challenges of fundraising. This involves seeking individual donations and identifying potential corporate or foundation sponsors.

  1. Community Engagement:

– The foundation emphasizes the importance of not limiting impact solely to working with the child. Volunteers can contribute by fostering awareness and empathy within society at large. This includes organizing and participating in awareness programs at various forums, such as schools, colleges, corporations, and public spaces.

How You Can Make a Difference?

– Individual Fundraising: Engage in personal fundraising efforts to support the foundation’s initiatives.

– Corporate Connections: Identify and establish connections with corporations or foundations willing to provide funding.

– Awareness Program Partnerships: Collaborate with Muskan Foundation to organize and conduct awareness programs, engaging with schools, colleges, and other platforms.

Muskan Foundation envisions a society where individuals with disabilities are embraced with empathy, and your contribution as a volunteer can play a pivotal role in realizing this vision.