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Intellectual Disability: A Challenge, But Not A Hindrance

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The Special Olympics program in Anantapur (Andhra Pradesh) has been run by the Rural Development Trust (RDT) since 2006. An initiative that started with two children has now grown into a full-fledged program with 79 participants. Situated in Bathalapalli, the Centre hosts a fully residential program – where all children are provided with the necessary support for their development. The program offers sports training by qualified coaches, education, healthcare and vocational training, as well as a nutrition program.

The aim of the program is to empower differently-abled youth through sports and to allow them to enjoy their childhood, learn lifelong skills and lead better lives.

Kullayamma, one of the athletes from this program, has made incredible progress since she joined 12 years ago. It may sound like a cliché, but she is a completely different person today. According to her coach, Shankar, “Kullayamma was completely dependent on other people to do even the most basic of things. She found it hard to go to the washroom without help. However, today she is a strong-willed, confident and independent individual. She is a leader amongst her peers and teammates.”

Born with intellectual disabilities (ID) in a village called Kottalapalli, Kullayamma had a difficult time as a child. In 2004, she joined the RDT rehabilitation centre for children with ID in Bukkaraya Samudram. Two years later, when she shifted to the Special Olympics Program in Bathalapalli, her life headed in an unexpected direction.

Initially, she learnt by watching. That is the process the Special Olympics Program follows. New recruits learn by watching their elder, more experienced teammates who play and participate in sessions. The moment they feel they are ready to play and themselves initiate an interest and desire to participate, the coaches slowly integrate them into the sessions. The sessions are based around repetition. Methods are taught in the morning and implemented in games in the evening. These particular methods are constantly and patiently repeated on a regular basis.

Though Badminton is her primary sport, it isn’t Kullayamma’s only talent. Her daily routine sees her involved in a number of activities both sports and life skills related. She also loves playing Handball and Table Tennis. During the afternoon, she is always learning and practising other skills such as stitching, working with Jute or studying.

Her incredible determination has seen her not just succeed here in Anantapur, but on an international level too. She has travelled to America and Australia to compete for the highest of honours. At the Asia Pacific Games in Australia in 2013, Kullayamma won the gold medal at the singles Badminton event, a silver in the doubles and also managed to pick up the Bronze medal in Mixed Doubles.

A successful tournament like that would be a dream come true for most athletes, the win of a lifetime. However, it was only the start for Kullayamma. Incredibly, two years later in 2015, she competed at the Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles, and this time picked up gold in both the Doubles and Mixed Doubles tournaments. In the singles event, for once, she settled for Silver.

Kullayamma’s partner in crime and someone she believes to be her role model is Balakrishnan. Another member of the Special Olympics program, Balakrishnan is arguably one of the most talented Special Olympics athletes not just in India, but the world.

                                     (Kullayamma and Balakrishnan)

Kullayamma’s parents are daily wage labourers and are very proud of their daughter’s achievements. They are extremely grateful towards the path she has taken and recognise the influence sports and the Special Olympics program has had on their daughter’s life.

Now 22 years old and already a senior figure within the Special Olympics Program, Kullayamma dreams of becoming an Assistant Coach at the Centre in the future. According to her coach Shankar, “ She already operates as an assistant coach. She is very different on the court. She is always telling the other athletes what to do and is constantly working to improve them.” Kullayamma also has plans to open a Tailor shop, as she enjoys stitching and is extremely passionate about it.

Even after all the medals she has won, if there are ever any doubts about Kullayamma’s inspiring progress since joining the program 12 years ago, her response to being interviewed should alleviate these, “You won’t learn a lot about me through an interview, watch me play Badminton and you’ll learn everything there is to know.”

Along with her fellow athletes, Kullayamma is now part of what is one of India’s largest and most successful Special Olympics Programs.

“There have been a lot of factors that have contributed to the success of this program. This includes a strong interest from all involved to improve the lives of these children, as well as providing them with nutritious food and training to make sure they are healthy and have the fitness levels to compete at a high level. The RDT centre in Bathalapalli is now the Special Olympics headquarters for Special Olympics Andhra Pradesh and our aim is to train more children with different abilities in various sports,” said the CBR (Community Based Rehabilitation) Director at RDT, R.Dasarath, on the success and the future of the program.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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