Celebration of Lives @ Happy Feet Home

IJ Anita Tejwani
Published on: 20th February 2015
Death has always had a clear idea in my head; the way my funeral should be always fancied me. Working with children and youth has been my forte. Hence, I firmly believe HFH is my calling in life!” says Mansi, the founder of Happy Feet Home- India’s First Children Hospice.

Mansi has worked in the development sector. She worked with an NGO for 8 years where she took care of the emotional space at a shelter for children fighting cancer for 11 months. There she saw that despite being on active treatment many children died. This brought her heart to dismay and she started searching for the cure. She found many organizations and individuals working on every possible issue, but none of them were found to work for people who had no chances of survival. “It is usually seen that people abandon the person who is about to die. I feel that even if a person has only one day to live, it should be lived. Even if a person is dying, we need to remember that right now at this moment the person is alive and that should be respected. Life, whether long or short, should be celebrated,” she says. Her efforts are to expel her feelings out in words and make the world understand the real value of life.

“We have a wonderful team here at HFH who are committed, excited and dedicated towards the work. Every time they are making extra efforts to excel in their respective area of work,” says Abhishek Tatiya, the co-founder of HFH.

Since the vision was clear, it was easy for Mansi and Abhishek to communicate to the team and setup regulations even before the first child came to their centre. At the first team meeting, Mansi and Abhishek were very clear in telling them that HFH is not a factory where you put a raw material in the machine and a final product comes out later. Instead, it is all going to be a human effort and each of them will have to play a pivotal role there.
Celebration of Lives,Happy Feet Home
Transparency and honesty are the attributes that define Mansi and Abhishek when they tell their team mates to correct the duo if they are wrong in taking any decisions. "After all, we are a team and together only we can make HFH a success," believes the duo.

“We had the idea, the vision, lots of plans and a heart full of hope. We did the right thing by approaching experts in the field like Mrs. Sunita Jadhav (social worker at TMH), Ms. Bhavisha Sanadhya, Dr. Mangiri Dighe (doctor at TMH) and other doctors at TMH. They were not only very helpful, but encouraging and firm at the same time,” says the duo.

Sing a Smile showed their faith in the HFH dream and provided support in every way, whether it was helping put together our first concept note, or designing something for them or brainstorming on various concepts, also being their sounding board whenever needed.

They also add, “We have always been very lucky to have a whole lot of people approach us and offer us their expertise when they read about us. It has been quiet an unbelievable journey, a beautiful one!"

They got on to crowdfunding website ‘Indiegogo’ to raise first set of funds. People wrote about their initiative on print and online media which made it easier for them to raise over $11,000. Post that, through word of mouth and couple of more articles have helped them receive contributions on a continuous basis.

“It was difficult but it has been an interesting journey at the same time. Here at HFH, experiences taught that a lot of people will promise but not everyone will turn up; hence we shouldn’t lose hope if one doesn’t help. A lot of patience indeed is always needed when we are dependent on others even if we want everything to be done on an immediate basis,” says Abhishek.

Mansi having 10 years of experience in this field, her family wasn’t surprised when she came up with the idea of HFH. However, they had their concerns and rightfully so when it came to not having a regular job, entering a field that was not completely known to her, having no funds initially and over and above all of this, they were concerned about Mansi’s emotional side. They felt that it will have an impact on her to be dealing with children with no hopes of survival. “What has kept them going is their unbreakable belief in me and knowing that if I am doing it from my heart I will do a good job of it,” she narrates.

Some people did question their credibility and perseverance. They would also question about their backgrounds and ask for reason for which their idea should be trusted and believed in. This duo would always stick to their plan firmly despite these uncanny responses and kept visiting them with a greater confidence each time. Today, those people come forward with words of appreciation and happiness to see the dream of HFH turned in to reality by the duo.

Besides starting HFH, they are providing Respite Care which allows a parent to drop their child at hospice ensuring that the child is being taken care and they can either take some rest or finish their chores without having to worry about the child. Also, they have been providing counselling and nutrition to the children and the caregivers. “We keep a tab on their weight and medicines so that we know what is happening. We are also involved in their other medical problems,” they state.

“Every evening you have to ask children to go back home and they don’t want to. Your good byes are filled with tight hugs and lots of kisses. You get calls in the night from children saying that they have taken their medicines and, of course, those ‘Good Night’ texts! This is how divine it feels and this is what keeps me coming back and will always be the driving force,” says Mansi.

“We really want to start a shelter where the children can stay also. This was the vision which we started with and are really keen to see a shelter. After having worked with children we do see and feel the need of a shelter. A shelter would allow us to have a day care also for the children who would want to come only during the day. A shelter would allow us to do a lot more things which we are currently not able to do,” narrates Abhishek on being asked about their future plans.

For us, HFH is a story, but there have been many heart touching stories at HFH. Each day is a new day, each moment is a new story. “Every day there are moments that we capture in our hearts and they remain etched in our memories forever. Reema, 15, studies in 10th grade but had stopped attending school for more than 3 months. Ever since she has come in, we have been trying very hard to convince her to go to school. We all spoke to her and gave her the confidence that she will be able to see it through. She has now gone back to school and will be appearing for her exams in March!” says Abhishek.

“I look at the children come in everyday, play the games, sing, dance, crack jokes, drive us crazy sometimes and also get emotional over and again. I do take a moment once in a while to see them from a distance and I think to myself, ‘What makes them come to the centre every day? Why do they love us selflessly?’, and sometimes answers come in tears and not words. Harsha, 17, has stopped going to school. She has not been keeping too well for a month now. She fractured her arm, had a swollen stomach, got glasses, and had some skin infection, all in a matter of a month and a half. I found out that she hasn’t been taking her ART medicines daily. This got me completely freaked out knowing about the result of not taking the medicines daily. I was not only super scared but also upset with Harsha for being careless about her medicines. On reaching the centre, it wasn’t the usual situation, because she usually spent a lot of time with me, and today, we were not talking. An hour and half passed by without talking to each other. Post that, I called her to sit with me; she came and sat on my lap, held me tight. No words were exchanged but both of us cried holding each other. The two of us sat in the corner and expressed our love without a word being spoken while everyone at the centre was playing and having fun,” narrates Mansi with a smile of gratitude and satisfaction at heart.

They didn't cry for they were sad but because their hearts were full and venting it out was essential. Later, that evening Mansi asked her the reason for crying, to which Harsha replied with the purest innocence that it was for the first time she felt as if she has someone of her own.
Here is what some of the team members wanted to share:

Anita, Housekeeper – “Being a part of HFH is like a purpose to my wish of working with children. We give them a lot of love and care, and they impart us this chance by coming here again and again.”

Sadhana, Nurse – “I counsel children so that they take the medicines on time and regularly. This makes me realize of filling the gap by providing support to the terminally ill children. This is a new and ambitious project and it should grow so that terminally ill children live their life with utmost peace.”

Rajeshree, Therapist – “These children are facing many other problems besides the life threatening illness which makes therapies an essential part of their lives, and I need to be their friend to be able to provide the therapy.”
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