Published: 26th August 2020
This foundation helps normalise the lives of people with disabilities like spinal muscular atrophy. Here's how
Prajaahita Foundation has been working towards making life easier for the differently-abled through a series of projects that focus on a different condition each month
Twelve years ago, engineering student Ajay Balachandran met with an accident that left him with an injured spinal cord. Left with little to no movement from his neck down, he made ends meet by using Windows’ speech recognition software to work online. His friend Sooraj Santhosh Kumar, an MSW graduate, was able to see up close how life changed for Ajay when he became a quadriplegic. More than anything else, Ajay wished to travel freely again. So in September 2019, the duo setup the non-profit organisation Prajaahita Foundation, to work towards normalising life for the differently-abled through monthly projects that target various conditions through unique methods.
“I had gone on a trip to Uttarkashi and posted beautiful pictures of the place on my Instagram when Ajay responded to it saying that he wished, more than anything, to go there as well,” remembers Sooraj. “He stressed about how difficult it was to live without basic mobility. That’s when we began talking about what we could do with our individual skills and experiences to try and work around these barriers.” Their first project was Namukku Chalikkam (We can fly). They converted a Maruti Eeco into a disability-friendly vehicle by adding portable ramps that allow wheelchairs to be placed inside the car. Thanks to a driving buddy that accompanies the car, young, differently-abled individuals can travel freely to their favourite destinations, even if it's a short trip to the shopping mall. Following this, they focus on one major disability each month and help create alternatives to help those who are affected by the condition.
IN THE MIX: August was Spinal Muscular Atrophy awareness month
August was Spinal Muscular Atrophy awareness month and the organisation was able to do some of their strongest work, despite the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Titled Love, Hope and Care, it was aimed at those who take care of children affected by the ailment, create hope for affordable medication and offer care for those patients who are dependent on the medication life-long. Sooraj says, “Children affected by this condition are some of the most troubled in Kerala. A single syringe of the medicine it takes to treat this costs around `80 lakh, rounding up to more than Rupees 5 crore a year. Our campaign was to push manufacturing of generic medicines in India itself, so that we do not have to pay exorbitant amounts to import it from the US.” The programme culminated with MP Shashi Tharoor challenging manufacturers like CIpla to make such medication more affordable.
On June 5, Prajaahita also kickstarted Athijeevana (Survival) to help make saving the environment a more inclusive process. Through this programme, their aim was to target at least 1 per cent of the 10 lakh households in the state with a differently-abled member. 700 individuals participated in the scheme by planting at least one sapling. In the coming month, they hope to take it one step ahead and introduce research on adaptive kitchen and agriculture methods which allow wheelchair-bound people to take part in activities like farming.