“We try to approach health and illness by looking through a telescope instead of looking through the microscope. Life is short but our needs and wants are unlimited. The idea is to stay happy in whatever situation we are,” says Vijay Bhat, who is a cancer survivor. Dealing with cancer is tough and emotionally draining. Much more so when you are a mere child, having limited or no knowledge about the realities of human life.

Pratham, a Delhi-based non-profit organisation is on a mission to become one of the best learning and activity centre in India for children who are fighting cancer. Pratham’s motto, “The pursuit of knowledge is the key to our pursuit of happiness” complements its goal— to create a right environment for independent and assisted learning for the children during their course of treatment and also to help families overcome their despair and accept the reality of cancer in their lives.

Pratham aims to help as many children in distress with cancer and regain their childhood through education, learning , fun, play and creative activity, which will help increase their “happiness quotient” by leaps and bounds— empowering them to move on to mainstream life with pride and dignity after treatment. Founder of Pratham, Madhav Chavan says, “I am a trained architect, I had nothing to do with cancer. Then, one fine day in 2007, I met the 6-year old boy Pratham and his mother at the Oncology centre of a Bangalore hospital. He was bristling with energy, constantly ran around, chatted incessantly and sang songs; all with a mask on his nose and mouth. It was difficult to believe that he had cancer. On striking up a conversation with the mother, I learnt that all the other children sitting there suffered from different types of cancer and plasma-related diseases. None of them went to school, because of the fear of contracting infection, the treatment pattern and the behaviour of the disease itself. It was challenging for parents to look after them, entertain them and keep them engaged, apart from all other things that parents have to do. It was a difficult task for them, since cancer-affected kids at that early age are as demanding and vivacious as every other child. Looking at those kids my heart started to shrink and sunk, I felt really bad.”

It is then, the idea of an exclusive learning and activity centre for children with cancer struck Chavan, a place that would boost the happiness quotient of both the children and their concerned care givers. He adds, “Children come here and make new friends while learning, playing, reading and participating in activities organised at the Centre. They can even keep up with their studies using the learning tools and opportunities provided. Outings for children and their families brings out joyous experiences while helping them connect to the environment and be a place where friends, relatives could visit them, away from the hospital environment.”

The name of the foundation is after the little boy Pratham whom Chavan met at the oncology centre in 2007. Primarily focused on giving the best to the kids who deserve every bit like other kids do. It works with children between the age of 4 to 14 years. It clearly states that it is not a clinical mission, but a creative learning initiative to provide education and increase the children’s happiness quotient. “It has a very different approach,”says Chavan, “Initially, when a family approaches we are unsure and skeptical about how to realistically deal with cancer. Through regular meetings, Pratham helps them accept and cope with the situation with a better perspective. Though Pratham itself does not provide medical treatments, or direct counselling, they help families and children to roll out a postive path and help them in right decision making and funded treatment.”

Pratham itself does not provide medical treatments, or direct counselling, they help families and children to roll out a postive path and help them in right decision making and funded treatment.

Pratham happily states that, in many cases, children return to school and are able to confidently face their peers, leaving cancer behind to lead happy lives. Statistically, this is proven by 76% of the children who complete treatment while being a part of the Pratham program.

Sumitra Bhargava, a teacher as well as a counselor at Pratham says, “At Pratham, I have seen drastic changes in children. They become more resilient, they build a strong sense of self. The cancer does not scare them as much as being alone in difficult situations. The things that children miss most are childhood, school, interaction with their peers and their family; fun and laughter of childhood. This is where Pratham comes in, we make sure that the children and families never feel alone in these difficult times. We seek to bring back the childhood joys into the children’s lives during this journey. To do this we tap into their innate optimism and help them in the process of self recovery and healing.”

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