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Holt’s director of nutrition and health services shares about a new partner that provides care and respite services for children with disabilities who are living in slum communities in Bangalore, India — and how Holt’s child nutrition program team, and Holt sponsors and donors, are supporting their work.

This last month, my team and I traveled to India to provide a training on the Holt International Child Nutrition Program (CNP) for our long-term, wonderful partner, Vathsalya Charitable Trust (VCT). Some of the most active participants in the training were parents and caregivers from a new site that is supported by VCT, Grace Foundation. These parents, therapists and caregivers were some of the most active and vocal participants, finding immense value from the training for their work and the children they care for. At the end of the training, we visited Grace Foundation with a core group of CNP leaders to complete the training practicum and learned so much more about the site and how it is changing lives.

Grace Foundation is a center in Bangalore that provides care and respite services for children with disabilities. Supported by our partner Vathsalya Charitable Trust, this center offers an impactful way to ensure children with disabilities have the opportunity to live full lives. For many children and families living in underprivileged communities of Bangalore, this is the first time they have felt welcomed or accepted and it makes all the difference. These families care so much about their children and the center empowers them to continue caring for their children instead of relinquishing them to orphanages. Through Grace Foundation, they can ensure their children receive nourishing meals and educational experiences they would not otherwise receive.

Caregivers and a teen girl with disabilities in India
Caregivers with a teen girl who attends Grace Foundation during the day. With the support of sponsors and donors, this site will support the children as they grow into adulthood and continue to ensure their families have the respite and resources they need. 

Grace Foundation has a unique setup. Based on a rotating schedule, 15 parents take turns providing care to the 44 children and young adults at the site, which allows the other parents to work on the days they are not at the center. The site offers resources, daily occupational therapy, nutritious meals, a safe place to play and learn, and socialization with other children. They have a visiting physiotherapist, speech therapist and special trainer who teaches activities of daily living and vocational training to the children. The Grace Foundation team also takes the children to a local hospital for monthly check-ups.

As a result, the center has changed the lives of the children and families who participate.

When we met with mothers and fathers at the site, many were in tears telling us how hard their lives were before they found the center. They shared about how they often had to lock their children in the house — some of whom have severe disabilities — for 12 hours a day so that they could go to work.

When we met with mothers and fathers at the site, many were in tears telling us how hard their lives were before they found the center. They shared about how they often had to lock their children in the house — some of whom have severe disabilities — for 12 hours a day so that they could go to work. When they would get home, they would just have to clean and feed their children who would have soiled themselves during the long day inside. Most of their homes in the slum communities in the surrounding areas do not have bathrooms and many of the children were not able to cook or feed themselves. This tortured existence led many to consider placing their children in orphanages.

Some of the children also experienced sexual and physical abuse when they were left unsupervised during the day. One child was lit on fire by community members who thought her disability was a demon to be exorcised.  The parents shared their guilt and heartache over their circumstances, which left them without options or hope and put their children in high-risk situations.

Many also mentioned how they were excluded and stigmatized because their community members did not accept their children, how their neighbors were unkind, pubic transport was impossible and schooling inaccessible. Some parents described losing spouses to suicide or abandonment because of the challenges associated with caring for a child with disabilities. But they loved their children so much, they just continued to do the best that they could do. 

With funding from local donors as well as Holt sponsors and donors, this site will support the children as they grow into adulthood and continue to ensure their families have the respite and resources they need.

When they found Grace Foundation, their whole lives changed! They found other parents who loved their children, regardless of their disabilities, and wanted them to have full lives. Their children found friends, regular nutritious meals, daily therapy and educational or career activities.  

As most of these children will stay with their families for their entire lives, the free day center creates a long-term solution — helping families to earn an income and continue caring for their children as they grow instead of placing them in an institution. The parents who work are also paid by the center on the days that they care for all the children. Empowered by the resources and support at Grace Foundation, some of the families have even been able to adopt other children with disabilities who were abandoned by their families.

Through Holt’s child nutrition program training, caregivers at Grace Foundation learned safe positioning and feeding practices for children with disabilities. Before the training, many of these children were in chairs far too large for them, which made skill development or self-feeding too hard for them. Above, feeding specialist Tracy Kaplan works with a caregiver while Holt’s nutrition and health services director, Emily DeLacey, observes.

Despite its successes, this center is not without challenges. Children with disabilities continue to face stigma held by community members who don’t want them in their neighborhoods, and as a result, the center has had to relocate and is in an unstable lease. Superstition and misinformation persist, and many believe disabilities are contagious or bad omens that put their own children at risk. The center often faces funding shortages for adequate nutritious food and child education resources, as well as poor access to clean water and an inability to wash laundry.

But with funding from local donors as well as Holt sponsors and donors, this site will support the children as they grow into adulthood and continue to ensure their families have the respite and resources they need. With Holt funding, VCT provides nutritional supplements, ongoing food — especially fresh vegetables – nutrition and health screenings through Holt’s child nutrition program and last month provided refrigeration for their kitchen.

Despite the many challenges they face as parents — often single parents — living in poverty and caring for children with disabilities, the families are committed to the success of the center because this is their only hope for their children to live full lives.

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