Challenged children’s champion

Jo Chopra McGowan is co-founder and executive director of Latika Roy Foundation (LRF), Dehradun. Named after Latika Roy, who was personally trained by Maria Montessori and started the first Montessori school in India, the foundation provides education and therapeutic services to children, disadvantaged by disability and poverty.

McGowan supervises Karuna Vihar, Latika Vihar, three early intervention centres (EIC), a vocational training and resource centre of the foundation which together employ 92 staff and 20 volunteers. An English literature graduate of the University of Massach-usetts, a social activist and an avid photographer, McGowan moved to India 30 years ago after her marriage with Dr. Ravi Chopra, director of the People’s Science Institute, Dehradun.

Newspeg. On May 23, the foundation inaugurated an EIC in the government-promoted Doon Hospital, now run as a public-private partnership hospital under the Central government’s Nati-onal Rural Health Mission. “This is a huge leap forward as it will allow us to provide timely and quality services to challenged poor children in the state of Uttarakhand,” says McGowan. The foundation’s new EIC was constructed with a generous initial grant of Rs.1.2 crore from the Sir Ratan Tata Trust.

History. In 1989 Ravi and Jo Chopra who already had two young children of their own, adopted a baby girl with disability. But when they started exploring schooling options for their special child in Dehradun, they found none. Therefore turning this adversity into an opportunity, McGowan started Karuna Vihar, a school for children with special needs in 1995.

Direct speech. “Children with disabilities have the same needs and rights as other children. They need to go to school, have friends, play and be part of the community. But for that to happen, social attitudes have to change. Inclusive schools in which all children are welcomed, have to be encouraged. I am very hopeful now that  the Right to Education Act, 2009 makes it mandatory for all schools to become disabled friendly, it will make inclusive education the rule rather than excep-tion,” says McGowan.

Future plans.  The foundation proposes to expand the EIC network throughout Uttarakhand. Also on the drawing board is an integrated campus to house all centres of the foundation which will research socially disadvantaged groups, particularly those with disabilities.

Payal Mahajan (Gurgaon)