Mumbai: Rejected as a child, differently-abled woman teaches regular kids

24-year-old Soniya Kaushal, who has a minor mental disability, was told to shift to a school for special children when she was five; today, she teaches at a regular pre-primary school and is responsible for 30 children

It is with a sense of immense pride that 24-year-old Soniya Kaushal walks to her employer, a pre-primary school, every day. Soniya, who has a minor mental disability, had been rejected by a regular school as a child.

Soniya Kaushal (24) was rejected by a regular school when she was five years old. She now teaches 30 regular pre-primary children. Pics/Atul Kamble
Soniya Kaushal (24) was rejected by a regular school when she was five years old. She now teaches 30 regular pre-primary children. Pics/Atul Kamble

Today, she teaches regular pre-primary children and is doing well at her job. Soniya, a Mira Road resident, was born slightly mentally challenged. Having been brought up in Dahisar, her parents admitted her to a regular nursery school. They then decided to shift her to Infant Jesus High School.

Soniya Kaushal with her mother, Manjeet
Soniya Kaushal with her mother, Manjeet

“When she turned five years old, we decided to shift her to a better school as the fees was affordable. At that time, we weren’t aware about her condition”, recalled Manjeet Kaushal (58), Soniya’s mother. Six months later, Soniya was sent back home with a school peon bearing a message asking her to come to the school.

“The principal said my daughter wasn’t mentally fit to study in a normal school and gave me an address of a special school, asking me to admit her there,” said Manjeet, who immediately got her daughter to write an IQ test. The results confirmed that Soniya suffered from a minor mental disability.

Initially shocked, the family decided to act quickly and admitted her to Sodawala lane Special School in Borivli. This proved to be a turning point in her life.

Blossoming
The first week in her new school was a trial period, during which teachers gauged whether she could perform basic tasks like eating, using the toilet, taking out her books, on her own. Soniya passed the test with flying colours and was accepted.

For the next three months, Manjeet accompanied her daughter to school every day and waited outside till she got done. Soniya, meanwhile, was blossoming and excelling at her studies as well as socially. “She began to open up and talked to other students, teachers, and even neighbours. She would help me in the kitchen and even started walking to school alone,” Manjeet said.

As she turned 18 and passed out of the school, Soniya found her true calling. “On my last day of school, I told my teacher I wanted to work just like her and many others.” Soniya was referred to the Snehalaya Special School for the job of a helper teacher. “I was very happy when they said I could join the school as a teacher, provided I first underwent training,” she said.

Soniya joined there as a trainee in 2013, and a year later, she landed her first paid job at the school. “I taught children between the age of nine and twelve. I was trained to teach poems, maths (basic numerals), alphabets and even how to tie their shoelaces,” she told this reporter.

Moving up
The ambitious girl chose to take a step further and approached a regular school for the position of a teacher. In September last year, she approached Blooming Bud Pre-Primary School and Activity Centre in Mira Road.

“After a basic interview, I got a job as an assistant nursery teacher,” said the elated woman, who is now responsible for taking care of 30 young ones not an easy task by any means.

“I love what I do and I am glad I am able to teach regular kids,” she said, with a twinkle in her eyes. “She is a good teacher and I have seen her working hard,” Bharti Mishra, the headmistress of Blooming Bud Pre-Primary School, told mid-day.

Manjeet lauds her daughter’s courage and perseverance. “She isn’t paid very well but her salary was never our concern. The fact that she stepped out into the world on her own and has broadened her horizons is a big thing for us. She didn’t sit at home; she went out to gain exposure and knowledge,” said her proud mother.

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