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Monday, July 16, 2018

The Smile Farmer Speaks ....

Life has not been easy or smooth for me. Born with a disability which I completely ignored, diagnosed with 3rd stage breast cancer, unsettling marriage, a special needs child and many other spices made my life challenging.
But with guidance from Rayyan, my son and wisdom that came with life experience, I made some right choices in later part of life and settled down. Good job, financially secure and a bit bored. In January 2017, I put aside some money for my USA trip to meet my sisters in survival. This is when I came across a place which was barely suitable for starting a preschool and day-care centre. I had to make a choice. Go ahead and meet my sisters in survivals after a decade of our first meeting or start with my dream project.
Image may contain: 13 people, including Uma J and Farida Rizwan, people smiling, people standing
After discussing with few people who matter, especially my friends from USA the ladybirds, it was decided I start a school first and then can plan my trip when things settle down here. Once I started the project, the old place just started sucking in all my funds. The drains were blocked, most of the things around looked rusted, the floor was rough on the skin, hygiene factor was very low and many more things needed to be settled. Blinded by my dream, I had overlooked a lot of things and also until I moved in some of the problems remained just hidden.
No matter how much I did, something remained to be completed. Not just all my funds which I had kept
aside for my tour of USA was sucked in, but also some of Rayyan’s funds. Yet the place did not look good enough for a day-care and preschool. So finally I gave in and looked out for someone who would join hands with me in my venture.
One of my friends, pooled in some money and joined me.  Finally my center, Giggle Garden opened on 15th June. On the first day, 5 parents who had known about the opening of our centre walked in for admission. One of them was with a child with Down’s syndrome. 3 parent’s objected to her admission, with just one parent not objecting to it. This was a tough call for me to make, but I did the right thing ethically though it may not be right financially for My Giggle Garden. Today, a year later when the child is making eye contact, greeting me, having food on her own, is playing pretend games and identifying colours with tremendous improvement in her speech, I know I did the right thing. Anyway, being a mom of
special needs child, I really did not have an option there. Today, if feel so grateful to the parents that even when her father was transferred, her mother stayed back alone only for her daughter to be in our school even though it was difficult for her with lack of Kannada knowledge.
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Pick the odd one out. You cannot because they all are unique and same ....
2 more students joined us and we had another for day-care. I kept working at my job to fund the centre and it kept chugging away.  The first major issue that came ahead me was when my friend announced she could not continue due to health issues. She had to back off and I had to return her funds as soon as possible. She had trusted me and invested in the school without any proof or written document. I could
not hold on her payment for long and had to pay her back. Thankfully Rayyan stepped in and helped me return her investment and also make some more improvements in Giggle Garden. He also helped me buy few more required materials and improve the centre.
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Our little chefs busy in preparation of breakfast for Gigglers
Giggle Garden moved smoothly until another hurdle was thrown my way. I had taken the whole premises with two floors. The school and day-care was on the ground floor and we stayed on the first floor. Due to unavoidable circumstances and marriage in the owner’s family I had to give up my home on the top floor. I had not checked and verified the document properly which was a mistake. No place to go, my family had to shift into an adjacent room to the school temporarily, until we found a place where Farheena could walk into easily. By then I had a sprain and tore my tendons. Not knowing how bad I injured my foot, I walked on it making things worse. I ended up with a foot support and walker. My two employees were on leave for a month. All took its toll on this year's admission. Adding to it, once people with funds and place
nearby saw how preschool have good business, competition came up in form of three new schools in our vicinity.
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Freedom begets work. Gigglers turning Scribblers
People were skeptical with my choice of having special needs children working on Montessori materials along with regular children. They doubted that I would ever walk and be active with children. I saw the fear of seeing a person with walker in people very clearly. They were doubtful about the safety with my family's presence in the school and there I was with them. I am not in favour of that either.  CCTV is
of no use to chase the fear in parents about their loving one's safety. Rayyan stepped in again and we could shift to a flat next door to our school.
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Adding to my challenges were parents who would not discuss their plans clearly. I made plans for students investing in manpower and things required, but some of them were in vain. I was making decisions emotionally rather than rationally which was required to make my business successful. Clearly I saw that I was failing as entrepreneur and businesswoman though I was very successful as a teacher. My students have excellent communication, social, play and academic skills. A two year old is able to lead us in her prayer. Our child who did not utter a word is able to recite rhymes and stories in 8 months’ time in giggle garden. Gigglers are doing great.
Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people sitting, food and indoor
I was having tough time without my regular job which I had to give up due to workload, sustaining a new business, paying rent, paying salaries and taking care of things required. I could not ask Rayyan for more because he was running out of resources as well and I went through terrible guilt. I had no right killing his dreams to pursue mine.
I was regretting few decisions I made, but some though not profitable, I still stand by them. My centre will always be open to all students no matter what. Only, hygiene and cleanliness will be a factor that will be decisive. This makes it neither a profitable business nor an NGO or charitable institution. But yet, I have faith that it will work out for me.
But no more falling for temporary admissions, temporary waving of fees, no more temporary day-care facility for those who can afford but take advantage of my trust. Rules will be strictly followed both for school and day-care.
Gigglers are learning and I am the foremost of the Giggler to learn my lesson. It has been stressful for me managing last three months, especially with the excruciating pain in my foot which was debilitating. I was
feeling like a loser though I did not want to show it out. I was wondering whether I made a right decision.  I could not make proper plans nor could I take up proper promotions of Giggle Garden.This is the first time I have crippled both mentally, emotionally and physically by pain. Did I really need this when I was at the peak of my career earning handsomely from the comfort of my home? I am not sure. But we have a
purpose in our lives and I think my purpose of life is somewhere this project.
I started looking out for ways to make this work out and found that a cancer survivor has more challenges in procuring loans and help. Partnership did not work out because they wanted the special children out of
centre. Most of them were clearly seeing only $$$$$.  I want our future generation to be different from what I see today. I want people to understand that just because some people have special needs does not make them dangerous or outcasts. So, I stood by my decision. My children have responded beautifully to my own daughter as well as to other's whose needs are a bit special.
Kathleen had once mentioned fundraiser for My Giggle Garden which I had not taken up back then. Asking for help has never been easy for me. After a lot of discussion with ladies I trust, I made one of toughest decision of my life and went for a fundraiser to make Giggle Garden a better place. I have to make this better and working or back off which means I lose all and have to start from scratch.  It also means letting down people (especially Rayyan) who have stood by me so far. Nothing in the world would allow me to shut door on the children for whom other doors were shut already. 
Impactguru stepped in and allowed me to raise a fundraiser on their site. I am touched by the gesture of my cancer survivor sisters from across the globe who got it going though they do not have much to spare. This shows the trust they have in my concept and project. This just made Giggle Garden my third child who I will take care of until I am there for Farheena and Rayyan.
Someday, I may build a place of my dream for children where they will enjoy learning. I am settling down as a Smile Farmer and I am going to nourish and nurture My Giggle Garden and grow smiles here.
For now I need help to grow smiles in my Giggle Garden. This was not easy to put up in open, but then I have learnt in my life that being transparent is what makes you liberated. So here it goes. This is my
fundraiser.

https://www.impactguru.com/fundraiser/help-farida-rizwan

DONATE


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Monday, July 9, 2018

I Have A Dream..............


 I have a dream. I have held on it throughout my life. I am sure that someday smiles will grow in my Giggle Garden and it will be filled with little Gigglers happily enjoying their time as they learn. I will be Smile Farmer.

My dream job in my childhood, like every child, was to be a teacher. Though for many children, the dream fades away as they come across different lucrative careers, for me the dream became stronger and stronger with each passing year.

When I was in 5th Std, I started coaching my classmates in Math and Science. That was the beginning. Then I started helping my brother with coaching for his exams. Few other children joined. I don't even remember how and when I became a tuition teacher for children in different grades.

Teaching has been a part of my life for a long time now. Being a counselor, I have heard complaints from students regarding the work burden they have in school. My coaching has never been dull or boring for my students and I have always received excellent feedback. This encouraged me to dream big of running a pre-school of my own.

My dream slowly turned into reality when I came across an affordable place which could be converted into a school. Many tell me, it is only me who could envision a school in this place. May be they are right. I did and I went about my job of making "My Giggle Garden" come alive.

I envisioned this space as a Big Sand Pit....

Then

Then

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Now

I saw this room and envisioned as my office room
Then

Now



This plain hall as my heart of Montessori working place
Then

Now

Now

As I took up the mission of starting my school in a place which was used as go-down and factory earlier, the task became overwhelming for me. The drainage was blocked due to wastage dump and rats making it their tunnel. Sometimes my heart would sink and I wanted to give up, but then there was a strong urge in me to make it happen. This was chance to live my dream. Either it would happen now or never. Being caught in the work and taking care of my family, I may never dream having my own Giggle Garden where I could grow smiles. I persevered and toiled for 3 months and then finally I was ready to invite parents for admission. Slowly admissions started trickling in. 


We enjoyed some very good parties celebrating birthdays, functions, festivals and special occasions with our children. I am not sure who enjoyed more, me or the children. 

     
Image may contain: 2 people, including Farida Rizwan, people smiling, people sitting and people eating


 


                           
                          
                                        
The best part of My Giggle Garden is that no smile is stolen. Every child, even those with special needs who can fit into the Montessori program will be given a chance.

I will hold on to my principle of giving respect to the child and involving them in discussion and decision making. Their emotional need will never be ignored.

Running a business out of blue is not easy and I have my shares of struggles. There are times when I wonder, did I do the right thing, then someone gives me a smile or a hug and I know "I did what I am meant to do".
                         

Someday, I plan to have a huge garden growing giggles and smiles. My plan for the building is ready. My curriculum is ready. All I need is a place and fund to make my dream come true. One dream has come true.  With time may be the other will come true as well.

https://www.facebook.com/My-Giggle-Garden-493023824420852/

www.mygigglegarden.com

Friday, May 11, 2018

Wish You Happy Birthday My Inspirational Daughter


When Farheena entered my life on 11th May 1995, my joy knew no bounds. Farheena has ensured that I continue to enjoy her company even to this day. She inspires with her uncomplicated thinking and way of looking at things without being prejudiced or judgmental. Having a daughter born after a son completed me as a mother.

I love the way Farheena greets the day with her unique sentence, "Tomorrow has happened!" There are many things that only Farheena can say or do, especially the unconditional and limitless love she shares with people around her. 
With her medals and certificate
Though life began with loads of challenges for Farheena, there is nothing that can stop her from being happy. Today, Farheena does not talk fluently, but she does communicate in her own way and style. She can see clearly. She walks with little help. Farheena manages her own life and keeps in touch with friends of her choice through internet. Facebook and recently WhatsApp are her favorites. 

With one of her favorite blogger friend Janaki 
With limited words she can pronounce or spell, she uses her creativity to convey messages to us. Her lack of complete vocabulary has not stopped her from communicating with people. She keeps trying until she is understood.

Sharing her friend's secret with her baby doll Annie

2015 marked a new Era of my life because this was the year when Farheena walked in with her first Salary she received for making paper bags in YST. She is involved in lot more activities now.


That was the biggest goal of my life achieved. People who do not understand the whole concept often ask me, “How much does she earn?” That is not important. What makes it important for me as a mother is to know that she is now capable of being engaged in fruitful and purposeful work throughout the day. Apart from her job at Fame Swalambhana , Farheena is busy on limeroad creating her scrapbook with styles of her choice. She has given me a few fashion tips and tries to correct me when she feels I am wearing inappropriate clothes for an occasion.


My inspiration in 2018 or any year
is my special needs daughter Farheena who has not allowed anyone to take her for granted. She knows how to protect herself and when to ask for help if someone is bothering her. She carries herself with dignity of a queen and is proud of her achievements. She has the ability to make people feel like somebody special. Moreover, unlike many people I know, she loves and respects herself.
15 years ago, I was consulting a lawyer regarding my legal rights. During the course of discussion, I mentioned that I am proud of my daughter. The lawyer then retorted saying, “Stop lying to yourself Farida. Come out of the delusion you are living in. No one can be proud of a special needs child. You can accept and love her but cannot be proud of her”. I was confused back then and walked away without answering her. I knew I felt pride in my heart when I think of my daughter but I was not sure. 
Today, I can very confidently say that I am very proud of my daughter. She has taught me a very important lesson in my life that – it is not what you get in your life that matters, but what you do with what you have which makes the difference. I know she will continue to inspire me in the coming years as well.
I am very happy to share the story of my hope and happiness to people who may feel overwhelmed by the challenges in their lives. Hang-on and fight with all your might! You will succeed.

The pretty Baby

Loves to dress up

Determined to get on her feet after triple
fusion surgery on ankles

Making her style statement

One of those rare days when she cleans
our home




Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Three Frogs Who Jumped Out Of Well

Sometimes we live in a well and lose our ability to imagine anything beyond the walls of the well. If not exactly frogs in well, my two children and I were almost going through that phase in our lives. Our two big leaps happened when we shifted from the confined city life to a village and then from the village to USA.

Rayyan my son was very much loved by my family, but that also meant the precious baby was over protected. Farheena was my special needs daughter, so in a way she ended up being overprotected as well. My house and my family turned to be their first well and they could not see anything beyond it.
There came a time when I decided that my children need to see the world beyond my own family. So, unwillingly, breaking many hearts, I moved on to live independently with them to a village called Byndoor. Rayyan now learned shopping for household groceries, cleaning, playing outdoor games, go out trekking, swimming and many more life skills which he missed in Bangalore.
Enjoying beach fun in Byndoor

 Unfortunately, the rural surrounding hampered Farheena’s social life, though she found some good friends out there. I thought we have jumped out of the well, not realizing that we are just in another well. We lived in our room of 7 by 9 feet and felt good about it.
Sometimes blessings come in disguise and I can say, so was my cancer. Though a life threatening condition, breast cancer has been one of the reasons for many of the positive breakthroughs in my life. My window to the outer world opened up through my need to connect with other cancer survivors for emotional support.  Since I could not find support group anywhere around me, I reached out further and further, finally ending up with a support group in USA. Talking about my cancer experience, the bond started to build up between me and other survivors, especially between Paula Gerding.
With passing days, Paula became the loving Pee aunty to Rayyan and Farheena with whom she would connect through webcam regularly. Farheena, my special needs daughter fell madly in love with Paula and wanted to meet her. This gave birth to our travel inspiration. Traveling to USA was easier said than done.
Visa, travel expenses and many other things were supposed to be taken care of. We were not one of those world traveler types. My children had not even traveled outside our state. Yet we did not give up, neither did Paula. One fine day, we just reached to the skies and traveled to USA.
The warm welcome we received at the Tampa Airport
 It was an out of the world experience for us. I know many people travel to USA from India, but I am not sure how many of them get to live with the Americans like we did, especially with a person like Paula.

If we were touring USA, we would never experience something like this.
From city to village life and now to USA, Rayyan was exposed to different environment which were worlds apart from each other. 
Rayyan learning to take care garden. 

What surprised me the most was the change I could see in Farheena. She was laughing, playing, and communicating with almost everyone around there. Her expressions changed. She wasn’t peeked into curiously by the Americans, but instead she was called a pretty girl, appreciated, welcomed and greeted with a ‘Hi’ even by people not known to us. She soon became the star of our group.
Learning photography with Sandy
Farheena has mobility issues though she walks around. There were many times when I had to stay back with her or ask Rayyan to stay with her so that one of us could complete shopping or any other work. USA was much friendly towards special needs of people. She could go to movies, parks, resorts, shopping malls since she had enough support to give her access everywhere. Ramps, wheelchairs, railings, toilets and other things made a huge difference to her life.

Never seen her smile like this before....
More than that it was the people around who were open minded towards special needs people that touched my heart. No one peered at her as though she was some weird being. No one questioned what was wrong with her. She was treated like any other person around, but with a bit more love and care. It was amazing to see her waving to the people and greeting everyone with a big smile.

The girl who was terrified of dogs, suddenly accepted them as her best friends. They would wake her up every morning and she for once did not grumble when getting out of her bed.


The Indian Saree was a craze among my American friends. This made us to organize a Saree party. Friends from different states of USA gathered in Florida for fun with Sarees.

They learned so much about India and our culture by meeting us and living with us.
There were simple messages passed on. One of the issue with Paula initially was why I was took the leftovers so seriously and packed them into the refrigerator instead of disposing them. Slowly she learned to see my point of view of how it finally makes a huge difference to our budget and also to world food crisis. Sometimes I could just spread the table for four for a lunch or dinner with only the leftovers which I had modified to suit our taste.
We discussed everything from arranged marriages to religions, sexual preferences, parenting styles, corporal punishment and many more. There were times when we would disagree and agree to allow the other to disagree on the issue.
For a middle class family it was tough decision to travel to USA and live with our American friends. We knew that the lifestyle, food, culture and everything would be different, but we never realized that experiencing something different and new would be so enriching and beautiful. We loved the new world we visited and wanted more of it.



When I came back to India, I was changed. So were my children. It motivated me to take my career seriously and also take up education and learn something new. Slowly in the last one decade, we worked and carved a new life for ourselves.
After observing Farheena’s change in USA, I decided to give her the second best option and slowly settled down in Bangalore. She started enjoying her time - first in special school and then in vocational centre. She also made friends here and learned to communicate with them through social media.
Rayyan made firm career choices and ended up doing what he loves to do. It was a proud moment for all of us when his team was one of the top 5 chosen for the XPrize.
As for me, I settled down with a Montessori and Daycarecentre of my own. It was a dream I always cherished. I am sure that my travel and my experiences in USA had a great influence on my becoming financially independent person. Initially there was a desire in me to change the world, but my travel inspired me to change myself. This eventually changed my world as well. 
Though busy right at the moment, we have plans to travel and meet our friends in different parts of globe. We want to experience the world not like tourists visiting the famous monuments and tourist spots but like friends and visitors who would get a glimpse of different culture and lifestyle from the close quarters. Our exploration would be of the real world and not just the famous tourists centers. We want to love the world as it is - different from our own world yet beautiful and lovable in its own way. 


Saturday, February 24, 2018

Cancer Care Without Financial Scare?

Though money is not everything, cancer care or treatment does not come free. Financial burden adds to the suffering of many who are battling the illness. A single sitting of chemotherapy costs about INR 90,000, a full-fledged cancer treatments runs into lakhs of rupees. What makes the matters worse is availing any kind of treatment for the poor is a challenge. They either face shortage of quality care, or shortage of money or often are deprived from timely care. 






.
I was kind of surprised with an invite to attend an event at JW Marriot hotel to be a part of New India Movement. 




It was an amazing gesture from Bangalore based entrepreneurial  couple, who decided to donate 200 cr to the self-funded NGO "New India" to make cancer treatment cashless. It was wonderful to know that Vijay and Amrita Tata  couple celebrated their daughter's birthday in this unique way. I can imagine how much Rs 200 crores donated for the underprivileged can help them survive and be with their loved ones.
The fund came in the form of 50 acres of land in Bangalore worth Rs. 100 crores to the trust and an additional Rs 100 crore to be used towards development of Super Specialty Cashless Cancer Care Hospital for poor people. Bollywood Actor Emraan Hashmi who had faced the brutality of cancer when it affected in son, launched the initiative. In his own words, inaugurating the NGO, Emraan Hashmi said, “I have very closely seen the pain which cancer patients and their family goes through.NEW INDIA’s initiative to create new hope for poor cancer patients is worth appreciating and I am glad that individuals like Mr Vijay Tata and Mrs Amrita Tata are coming forward to take this novel step.”

New India is a nonprofit organization that will be completely self funded by Mr Vijay Tata & Mrs Amrita Tata and will focus on creating a new hope for the betterment of underprivileged. 
New India solemnly commits itself to the fight against cancer by ensuring to take strong steps in making sure that cancer treatment and care is available to all the needy and poor for free. Because with Cancer what kills faster is the cost associated to it. NEW INDIA already has earned itself a 50-acre land worth Rs. 100 crores that will be the foundation on which a cancer hospital for the underprivileged will be built. 

It aims to cater women, children, critical illness and stop-rape initiative to bring justice to rape victims and help them resurrect their lives. As the first initiative by NEW INDIA, it has already pledged 50 acres of land worth Rs 100 crores in Attibele-Anekal Road, Bangalore to the trust. Additional Rs 100 crores will be used towards construction of the super-specialty cancer care hospital. All underprivileged cancer patients fromacross India will be treated completely free of charge. This will be the first cashless hospital across India.

Hope more millionaires in India will take a hint from this couple and contribute to the society in the right way. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Technology Aiding Healthcare


Back in 1996, when I was diagnosed with cancer, I had no clue who I was pitched against in this battle. All I knew was that it involved surgery, chemotherapy and radiation to fight cancer. I did not know much about the technical terms I was coming across back then.
Later on, year after year of survival, I realized there are lot more terms in breast cancer that I had no clue about when I was diagnosed and went through the treatment. ER positive/negative, PR positive/negative or triple negative were some terms which I had no clue about.
Later when I heard about BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, I was in denial that cancer can be genetic, since, if yes, then it meant I would have got it from my mother. I did not want to feel that way. Though there were hints with my sister, my mother and myself being diagnosed with breast cancer, I did not want to accept the fact. But it lead me to read more in detail about inherited mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 and how they increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancers in women. It was new information for me to know that these genetic mutations are associated with higher risks of many different cancers. Hereditary breast cancer was an unacceptable but genuine bitter pill for me to swallow.
Finally, I put up enough courage to go ahead with the mutation testing. The reports came back stating that I was BRCA2 positive. Since breast cancers associated with BRCA1 and BRCA2 tend to develop at younger ages than the nonhereditary types, it explained my own diagnosis at the age of 29 and my sister’s diagnosis at the age of 30.
 With more research and understanding of cancer, I realized the need of technology in healthcare to fight cancer the right way. Back in 1996, I thought total radical mastectomy was the best way for me to fight cancer, even though my doctor gave me an option of breast conservation. Now I realize that at the age of 29, I need not have surrendered my whole breast. Though I have learned to live with prosthesis, sometimes I do miss the symmetry of my body.
There are lot of organizations today, like Tempus, who with their team of innovators are obsessed with developing breakthroughs in how we tackle diseases the right way. This will highly customize the treatment that the patients receive.
One of the most prominent question in most of the people going through cancer treatment is regarding the outcome of the treatment. Usually we do not get definite answers to our questions. Fortunately, today the advanced image recognition algorithms extract key image characteristics from radiology and pathology images to create imaging data sets to better measure outcomes and to inform predictions. Though life is quite unpredictable, it is nice to know where we stand in this battle for our life.
I am aware that today after being a cancer survivor for 22 years, that data analyses plays an important role in the outcome of treatment results. I realize that something like sequencing services and analyses of somatic and germline molecular data along with therapeutic data will empower those dedicated physicians to make better data-driven decisions to give those fighting cancer a better chance of living quality life for a longer period of time. Technology will give us the edge over cancer. Innovative and breakthrough technics like Bioinformatics system delivers accurate variant cells of genomic and transcriptomic data. Further, classification platform combines complex algorithms with a robust set of curated databases to enable experts to make fast and thorough decisions, all in the context of a patient's case. This new approach to next-generation sequencing aided by modern technology will give doctors today an access to a variety of sequencing capabilities, all with full transcriptome and tumor/normal match which will customize treatment for a specific patient and target the cancer cells more accurately.
After 22 years of survival, though my risk of recurrence has come down tremendously, it still gives me more courage and hope that with present developments in cancer treatment, I can fight it off if it ever makes a come back again. Thanks to all the people who are trying to make cancer treatment more successful.
I have lost my mother and my sister to breast cancer. I hope technology and dedicated research to fight cancer will prevent others from losing their loved ones to this disease.

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