You have to fight your own battles, they say. However, it is rare that one person’s kindness and unwavering support can change the lives of hundreds of children suffering from cerebral palsy (CP). These children are truly “special” because they know how to rise against the odds in a society that denies and discriminates against them. The inaugural Khelo India Para Games 2023, underway in Delhi, has not only unveiled more than 1400 athletes with special abilities, but also brought to light people who work tirelessly behind the scenes and far away from the media spotlight to bring a smile forward to young boys and girls suffering from cerebral palsy. Girija Kumari Madhu, a very unique person in the Cerebral Palsy Sports Federation of India (CPSFI) ecosystem, is one of them.
CP is a dreaded neurological disorder that occurs in infancy or early childhood and permanently affects body movement and muscle coordination, generally due to abnormalities within the developing brain. There is no proper data on the number of people suffering from CP in India, but Kavita Suresh, the general secretary of the CPSFI, says “the number could be more than a crore.”
Girija, a normal housewife, decided three years back to help CP children regain their identity and have the necessary skills to earn a living on their own terms. She decided to dedicate her entire life and savings to the betterment of these special children. Today it shows results.
“Three years ago during a meeting with the All India Football Federation (AIFF), I came to know about cerebral palsy football. I was involved in playing football as a normal child since I was 14 and from my experience I felt, that football is a wonderful tool to transform a normal person. Today I am very happy that these children who could not even walk properly are running around playing football so well and winning tournaments,” said Girija.
“The conditions of these children are really terrible. Their parents lock these children in one room and do not let them come out or meet other people for fear of embarrassment. They are not receiving proper education. I thought if my children were not . normally, I’d have a quiet time with them too. So I told myself I had to do something about it.”
The 49-year-old Girija, who also doubles as manager, was delighted to see Kerala score 21 goals without reply against Punjab in their opening group match of the Khelo India Para Games at the JLN campus on Thursday. On Friday, Kerala thumped Jharkhand by an identical margin (21-0).
Having won four national tournaments since they began competing in 2022, Kerala are favorites to win gold at the 2023 Khelo India Para Games, with 23-year-old skipper Sijo George brilliantly at the center of a team that has played an intelligent card-passing game to outwit opponents.
Girija ran the Cerebral Palsy Football Association of Kerala (CPSAK) three years back and identified children in his native Alappuzha to start playing football. However, the association did not receive recognition from the Kerala State Sports Council (KSSC). This meant that there was no financial support.
“She is a very special and unique woman. That someone with zero funding can do so much is absolutely amazing. Her grit and determination inspires us as a national federation,” said Kavita.
However, the spirited mother of two did not give up and even went on to pawn her gold jewelery to cover the training and food expenses of the 20 CP children. A graduate of the international FIFA-CIES program in sports management offered exclusively in the South Asia region by the Pillai Institute in Navi Mumbai, Girija established the Amogha Foundation realizing the need to upskill these children.
“We upskill them. We train them in data analysis, graphic design and art. They can do many things. After three months of training, we identify their area of competence. Everyone has separate skills. The first time we do it. We have professionals from the foundation to identify each and every child’s talent. So this will help them earn their own lives with prestige and respect. If we get better financial support, the sky is the limit,” she said.
After the story of the foundation and the plight of the CP children was highlighted by a local newspaper, the Buimerc Foundation came to the rescue. They decided to fund the education and travel expenses of the Kerala team members. Ernakulam-based Oorjja Foundation has pledged their support to get placements for these special children.
“Khelo India Para Games has been a fantastic opportunity. These Games are the real catalyst to foster a sporting revolution. The Sports Authority of India has been very supportive and to see our team travel to Delhi and play with so many other special athletes is a dream come true. We count on support from Kerala so that we can bring more joy to people suffering from CP,” said Girija.
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