Two short years ago, Andrews' movements were uncoordinated and he rarely spoke. But according to his tutor, Joy (pictured), today he writes, draws, memorizes long portions of scripture and wins singing competitions!
The Birth of Hope
At first glance, Andrews Sekhar is a small, droopy-eyed young gentleman with a perpetually anxious frown. But on request, he cheerfully recites Psalm 34 and prays with gusto. He is not shy or even remotely fearful of strangers. Though diagnosed with moderate mental retardation, 9-year-old Andrews has a phenomenal memory. And the frown, it turns out, is not caused by any anxiety, but is a symptom of congenital ptosis a disease that keeps him from seeing very well and causes his droopy eyes.
Andrews is a sponsored child at the Canon Thomas Sither Integrated Child Development Center (IN-636). The center sits in the small village of Thirumaraiyur near Tirunelveli, a southern town in the state of Tamil Nadu. Run by the Church of South India, the center was begun by a former bishop of Tirunelveli as a home for the mentally handicapped in 1987. A Compassion partner since 1988, the home became an integrated student center in 2001 and currently ministers to 260 children in all, 54 of whom are mentally challenged.
When Andrews joined the center in 2000 at age 6, he showed all the signs of a severely challenged child. He had almost no self-help skills, no toilet training, his movements were uncoordinated and he was very uncommunicative. When he spoke, it was only to call out, "Amma" or "Appa" (Tamil for "Mom" and "Dad"), or to throw a tantrum if he did not get what he wanted or couldn't make himself understood.
A little more than two years down the line, the changes in this boy have been profound. "Not only can Andrews dress himself and coordinate his movements reasonably well, but he can also sing, write numbers from one to 10, count, color a picture and control his emotions. He is also obedient and his speech and vocabulary have improved drastically. He knows his parents' names and address and can rattle them off precisely when asked," comments Joy Gnana Golda, director of the home and Andrews' tutor.
"He plays games, runs and jumps around with other children. He is a natural leader," Joy continues. "His favorite (TV) show is 'Animal Planet.' But his all-time favorite activity is learning Bible verses and songs. He has won singing competitions at the project, competing with children (who are not challenged). He is the best moderately challenged student in the program," she concludes with a laugh.
Andrews' parents, Susheela and Shekhar, live in a village some 20 kilometers from the center with their other children 13-year-old Ansalya and 11-year-old Aniston, who is also mentally challenged. Andrews lives at the center and goes home only for the holidays.
Talking about Andrews' early years brings a mixture of emotions to his mother's face joy and pride in her son and sadness over the "might-have-beens" in his life. Yet there is a sense of acceptance as well loving acceptance of Andrews and his brother Aniston, and a calm acceptance of the events that so dramatically changed their lives.
"When Andrews was born I was very happy, but soon I realized that something was wrong with my little boy. He crawled late and walked only at two and a half years. We took him to a doctor who diagnosed him with mental retardation.
"My heart broke when I heard those words. Having one challenged child is hard enough, but to have two mentally challenged children is heart-breaking and all the more so when I learned this could have been prevented. The doctor told me that both boys were affected because of Rh incompatibility when my eldest girl, Ansalya was born. If I had had an injection then, none of this would've happened.* We weren't guided properly," says Susheela, anguish etched on her face.
Unlike most Indian families that favor sons over daughters, Susheela emphasizes that she and her husband would have been equally troubled if Ansalya had been affected instead of the boys. "After all, she is also my child," Susheela says emphatically.
Expectation for the Future
As they watch the improvements and progress in Andrews' development, everyone who knows this amazing young boy looks to his future with anticipation. "With further training," says his tutor Joy, "Andrews can progress to the vocational class and learn a useful skill that will help him stand on his own feet."
His mother agrees. "We did not put him into a special school earlier since we are poor and cannot afford the fees for such a school. Now, after seeing his progress in just two years, my husband and I are happier and more at peace over his future. We believe he can make a small living for himself," she says with tears in her eyes.
It is amazing to see how Compassion's assistance helps children like Andrews once thought uneducable and retarded progress and reach their full potential. It is heartening and heart-warming to witness the life-changing impact Compassion's programs have on children with disabilities: children some consider unimportant or even expendable.
It is also an eloquent testimony to what willingness, a little money, and a lot of love and dedication can achieve in the lives of these rare and precious children who are created in the image of God.
* Rh incompatibility occurs when a mother's blood type contains a negative Rh factor and she gives birth to a child with a positive Rh factor. It rarely affects the first birth, but due to a build-up of antibodies in the mother's system, subsequent children are at risk for stillbirth, mental or physical retardation, cerebral palsy and other problems. An injection of human immune globulin within 72 hours of the first birth usually prevents further problems. However, this injection is not always offered or even readily available in the developing world.
Sources: 1upinfo.com encyclopedia, "erythroblastosis fetalis"; prevention-news.com, "Rh Hemolytic Disease of the Newborn."
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