Samiksha Foundation - Caring for Children with Cancer, a non-profit organisation that supports children undergoing treatment in Bengaluru, is ensuring they can continue their schooling and participate in creative activities during this period. This unique intervention was conceived by Sandhya Sharad, an architect by profession.
The foundation’s objective is to provide the children with opportunities to learn, develop new friendships, and, wherever possible, enjoy the time spent at the hospital. Normally, children aged between 3 and 12 years participate in learning, play, and creative activities that are supervised by full-time teachers, volunteers, and their own caregivers.
The intervention generally lasts 6 to 8 months. The foundation believes that this boosts the children’s self-confidence, self-esteem, increases their happiness quotient, and helps them view their treatment more objectively, allowing their seamless transition into the mainstream. For these children’s caregivers, mostly parents, Samiksha provides an opportunity to meet peers in similar situations, helping them know they are never alone in such difficult times.
In 2007, Sandhya had a chance meeting with a 6-year-old girl, who was undergoing treatment for cancer. On striking a conversation with the mother, she learnt that such children did not attend school because of the risk of contracting infection, rigorous treatment schedules, and post-traumatic stress. She observed that their parents also faced a difficult task in constantly looking after, entertaining and engaging positively with them. Above all, children undergoing long-term treatment missed school very much.
Despite increasing success rates of childhood cancer treatment, exclusive paediatric oncology support in India that helps bridge the education gap for such children is lacking. Stating that "Children suffering from cancer also have a right to quality education,” Sandhya and her friend Dr Manjari Bhatnagar researched paediatric cancer support groups, and the idea of an exclusive learning and activity centre for children with cancer was born, named after the child who inspired it.
In 2009, Dr L Appaji, Head of Paediatric Oncology, and Dr Janet Parameshwar, chief social welfare officer at the Kidwai Memorial Oncology Institute, Bengaluru permitted them to set up a learning centre there. Since then, Samiksha Foundation has positively impacted over 1,500 children. It has set up a tutoring facility, multilingual library, and children’s play area at the Kapur Ward, Kidwai’s exclusive paediatric oncology ward. Here, Samiksha runs an integrated education programme 4 days a week, year around, and provides free school supplies to patients and their siblings. It conducts regular activities like storytelling, origami, pottery, puppet shows, magic shows, singing, yoga, meditation and laughter sessions, and celebrates the children’s birthdays.
Naveen Kumar, a cancer survivor, says, "My initial days were terrifying, but after I met Vidyawathi and Parvathy madam of Samiksha, it was fun attending classes with other children and learning. It greatly helped me in getting back to school to finish Class 8. Today, I am proud to be doing my engineering at a prestigious college in Bengaluru.”
As is the case with most non-profits, Samiksha too faces challenges on several fronts. "The founding trustees and a few business houses provide for the operational expenses to an extent. Despite these limited resources, we support over 100 children at Kidwai alone at any given time. However, there are about 800 such children in Karnataka every year. Over the past 7 years we have reached out to 2,000 children and 76% of them are going back to school. It would be a great relief to have a corporate anchor or patron support us with regular funding, so that we can focus more on our mission,” states Sandhya.
Samiksha’s motto is "The pursuit of knowledge is key to their pursuit of happiness.” Sandhya says, "I want to tap the innate optimism in every child, increase their happiness quotient and help them live as much of a normal life as possible.” She is very happy to share best practices with anyone wishing to replicate this model across India. Samiksha will celebrate their Annual Day on June 18, 2016, at the Kidwai Memorial Auditorium, Bengaluru. To know more, log onto www.samikshafoundation.org.