Mother Courage

Making a difference

Mother Courage

Jo Chopra

Jo Chopra is an activist for people with disability, an impressive speaker, an avid blogger and photographer. She is the founder of Latika Roy Foundation that works with people with special abilities.

 The story of American Jo McGowan, who married Ravi Chopra and relocated to Dehradun, is best told in Jo’s words.

 “Ravi and I met when two protest marches collided,”  Jo laughs in recollection. “He was pursuing doctoral studies and I, English literature. We fell in love and got married. Ravi is from a family of freedom fighters and always planned to return to India. We came back in 1981 and settled in Delhi. But it was not a place I wanted our two children to grow up in. Dehradun in the 80’s was a lot calmer and we shifted here.”

A baby and a spirited struggle
But how did she foray into the disability field? Explains Jo, “As a family, we had always wanted to adopt a baby. When we learnt about a child who was born 12 weeks premature and who was put up for adoption at the Dehradun Hospital, we brought her home. Moy Moy, who is 20 years old now, weighed a kilo at birth. As her mother, I knew something was wrong right from the beginning. We went from specialist to specialist, looking for guidance. Getting the diagnosis of cerebral palsy took four years.  When the mainstream school she attended didn’t work for her, we started our own school for Moy in 1995 — and it has just kept expanding! So, Moy is the inspiration for all of my work.”
“Mostly, in the positive sense, Moy is the invisible thread that binds our family. She keeps things simple and our values straight. But for her, so many people in the community would not have come together to build an organisation like the Latika Roy Foundation that is helping many people in many ways.”

 Today the foundation, with over 90 staff members, provides early intervention, education, training and awareness about various aspects of disability. It has an inclusive play centre, where every child is welcome to have fun and learn in the process. For adults with disabilities, there is a college that offers vocational training.

“It is essential to bring people with special needs into the mainstream by providing appropriate intervention, changing policies and increasing public sensitivity,” stresses Jo, a strong advocate of inclusion. An inclusive society is one where people with disabilities have equal rights and opportunities to education, jobs etc.

But is it feasible to include children with severe disabilities in regular schools? “Why anticipate problems? Parents of children with special needs learn to cope because they have to — with no special training or experience. Schools can too. People will find their own solutions,” Jo replies.

Know your rights
People with special needs and their families often don’t know about their legal rights. Working through the administrative maze can be a nightmare. The foundation has set up a help desk at Dehradun Hospital to assist people in getting disability certificates (a must for availing of facilities like disability pension, job reservation, travel subsidy, etc) and to address other grievances. The help desk has so far helped around 9,500 people.

 Latika Roy Foundation also attracts a host of volunteers. “We believe that everybody has a special talent. Our security guard showed the aptitude and we helped him become a physiotherapy assistant. Another helper was sent for training and now she is a special educator.”

Jo advises parents to trust their instincts with regard to their child and urges them to be strong advocates. She  coaxes youngsters to take up careers in this field, guaranteeing job satisfaction. When she says, “Disability is just one aspect of a person. There is much one misses by not interacting with them”,  you know she is speaking from personal experience. 

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