Growing up to become someone of consequence is a fantasy that lightens up all children not withstanding where they come from. I remember I wanted to become a top gun tearing through skies in a supersonic jet. But some dreams will not be fulfilled, not because they will be replaced but because those who dream will not survive to see them through.
My ignorance laid itself bare when I stepped into a place to shoot for a story I was doing for my project ‘One Life, One Passion’. It was a compact space with bright white walls, murals of trees and birds, a LCD television and butterfly hangings. The sprightly ambience was instantly noticeable even to an uninitiated eye. “This is a place where we care for the terminally ill children” said Manasi, one of the two founders of Happy Feet Home- India’s first hospice for children. Till that time I did not know what a hospice was. The hall was buzzing with playful sounds of children who unanimously greeted me, “Hi Bhaiyya” their intrigue towards my photography gear notwithstanding. In the following moment it occurred to me how the palpable positivity of the place belied its morose reality.
Generally, hospices in India are for adults or senior citizens with little or virtually no thought of catering to special needs of children. And popular imagination has it- Hospices are dull places because they are for people who are dying. Abhishek Tatiya, co-founder of Happy Feet Home does not agree. According to him a hospice for children should be a happy place where they enjoy every day without fearing or thinking of the inevitable. To achieve this goal of positive palliative care, Happy Feet Home focuses on recreational activities, therapy through dance, art & music, counseling for kids and their families and even bereavement support to the families of the little departed souls.
Once there, I started setting up my lights and readying my camera and the children could not contain their enthusiastic anticipation of getting clicked. Some of them were overtly curious wanting to touch my equipment and surprisingly I allowed them to do so albeit with caution. The disruption created by my presence hijacked more than half of their planned session. What touched me the most amidst the clamour for getting photos taken was the extraordinarily high comfort and affinity that the children had with both Manasi and Abhishek. The duo was treated like elder siblings by the children; clinging and fondling galore.
Abhishek asked the children to write down what they dreamt of becoming after growing up. They were to scribble that on a black slate and share it with others. Seeing each one of them proudly flash their slates as if it were a personalized batch, it struck me that once we lose sight of the fact that these are terminally ill children, they appear like other ordinary children- full of dreams in spite of their crippling conditions. This thought prompted me to ask Manasi, “Are they really going to die, soon?” and she replied, “Yes probably. They are HIV positive and most will not make beyond their 20s”. A sense of hopelessness filled me but simultaneously it dawned on me that this emotion was unbefitting to the place.
Abhsihek and Manasi belong to a rare breed of highly passionate individuals. They don’t crave for high paying jobs or perks but to genuinely serve a social need. In just under a year after starting (they began the hospice in August 2014) they have spread happiness in the lives of 85 children so far and still counting. And all this is free of cost to the parents of these children. They sustain their operations through generous donations received from individuals and other non-profit organizations. Contributions made to Happy Feet Home are tax exempted.
For more information or making contributions, please visit their website, email them on Mansi@happyfeethome.org and Abhishek@happyfeethome.org, or contact Manasi on +91 98 70 220888.