Ms. Jatinder Arora was a journalist with a leading newspaper, The Times of India, in Delhi when she met with an accident and lost her eyesight. This experience completely changed her life. She refused to become dependent on anyone and wanted to do something productive. Jatinder felt that she could be a good counselor for children and thus decided to volunteer her time at an institution with hostel facilities for differently-able children. Without her sight, Jatinder relied on her mother who would describe the mental and physical states of the children as well as their living conditions. She was deeply moved by this unprecedented rendezvous with such children.

Given her own challenges, she was able to empathize with these children and understand the pain and difficulty they faced in conducting simple daily activities. For example, holding and bringing a piece of bread to their mouth was a herculean task for some. She thus decided to volunteer in service of these children. Soon, she realized that a little care, love and affection were all that these children craved for and it would light up their faces. In essence, these children too desired to lead a life with dignity.

After undergoing a couple of surgeries, Jatinder regained her eyesight. She decided to devote her time completely in service of the differently-able children. This devotion took the form of Prayas. The family started with 5 differently-able children and a staff of 2 in a house in Raja Park, Jaipur. The primary aim was to provide vocational training as no there was no other such institute in Rajasthan.

The team wondered why no one from resource-deprived communities, especially slums, came to them seeking advice and admission for their differently-able children. It was therefore decided to survey the walled city and surrounding areas, where a large number of slums existed. In 1998, Prayas conducted door-to-door surveys in slums to identify differently-able children who were not receiving any care, attention, education and skill development training. This was a huge challenge as people viewed us with suspicion. The team was greeted with cussing, being spit at, slaps and slamming doors. People believed there was no hope for the differently-able children and would mock the prospect of anything being possible for them. Such children were often found completely unattended while their family worked. Often they were chained to walls, covered with a sack and lying in their excreta with flies all about them. During these surveys, it was also learned that girls were never sent to schools and were always kept indoors. Girls as small as 4 years old were busy with the household chores and had never been out of their homes. The survey results showed that many children suffered due to lack of nutrition, education, and healthcare.

It was then decided to work towards inclusive education, with a focus on differently-able children and girls (who would become first generation learners). The community was even more agitated with us for asking to take the girls from homes to schools. Religion was another barrier. People initially refused to have their children celebrate festivals outside their religion. We counseled them continuously, emphasizing religious tolerance, and our efforts have now resulted in, amongst other things, differently-able children gaining acceptance and appreciation in the community, females being educated and allowed to progress, communal tolerance and harmony.

Jatinder Arora – The driving force!
All through the early, difficult years, it was Miss Jatinder's passion, conviction along with the participation of Mr. R. K. Mohla that drove PRAYAS to evolve into an Institution. They were firmly committed that each one of us can be agents of change, and eventually, the impact is a lasting change for the better. Every child, regardless of birth and circumstance is truly equal and needs to have access to good education, and should not be compelled to work or be abused and exploited for any reason.

The work was very challenging. We had to integrate disabled children with normal ones and also maintain harmony between the communities to which the children belonged. The children became our messengers. Our aim was to not only make the children literate and capable of writing their names, but also to impart values based education to them. We wanted them to develop the ability of analysis, discrimination between right and wrong and grow up to be good human beings.

The four schools of Prayas, one special school and three integrated schools in slums, continue to show progress. Over the last two decades, Prayas has crossed many milestones and is now recognized as an institution in disability management, inclusive education and integrated schooling. The severely afflicted cwsn are taken under the ambit of the home based therapy program. Some of these children are now able to attend regular school.

Our work is guided by the core human values of respect, dignity and the autonomy of children with special needs. Observing the neglect of children with special needs, specially the girls in slums, we started intervening in 12 government schools with the government's permission. Our task was to admit non school going children, normal as well as those with special needs to these schools, facilitate inclusive education and also train government teachers in special education. This program is going on and our efforts have yielded remarkable results in community and parent participation in government schools.

Miss Jatinder Arora was very passionate about ensuring the children's future and higher studies. Students were encouraged to continuously learn and develop their skills and capacities. Prayas Integrated school Raja Park is up to Class VIII and we ensure that the children, specially girls continue their education after passing out from Prayas. Many a times, the parents are unable to afford fees, due to weak financial condition and we have to support the children by paying their fees. Children of Government primary schools who pass out of Class V are also encouraged to continue education in Class VI in other private schools, by paying their school fees.

Jatinder Arora Academic Award
The inspiration behind Prayas, Miss Jatinder Arora in 2015 departed for her heavenly abode on 12th February 2015. Her unfortunate demise has left a big void, as she had worked throughout her life with compassion and commitment for the cause and had established an identity as a respected member of the disability and development sector. She will be greatly missed.

To commemorate her memory, the "Jatinder Arora Academic Awards" have been started by Prayas, for the best student from each of the four schools run by Prayas. The Award comprises of a Trophy, Certificate and a Cash reward of Rs 1100.

This award encourages and rewards exceptional academic and overall achievement. The children are selected on the criteria of academic excellence, participation in co curricular activities, discipline, obedience and respect towards teachers, behavior with friends, sensitivity towards those in need, awareness in the community and overall performance.

The 2014-15 Jatinder Arora Academic Awards were given to the following students:
• Junaid (Class X NIOS) Prayas Special School, Jhalana.
• Armana (Class VIII) Prayas Integrated School, Raja Park.
• Alisha (Class III) Prayas Integrated School, Amagarh.
• Fiza (Class IV) Prayas Integrated School, Sanganer.
• Varsha Parewa (Class X NIOS) Prayas Special School, Jhalana: CONSOLATION Award

We are also taking into consideration the academic and overall performance of students of Government schools and if feasible, they will also be included for the awards.

The Path ahead…
The work of Miss Jatinder Arora is now being carried forward with the same vigour, zeal and enthusiasm by Team Prayas under the stewardship of Mr. R.K.Mohla, who has been associated with Prayas and Miss Jatinder since inception. His diverse experience, vast contacts, strong commitment, leadership qualities, organizational skills, vision, understanding and able guidance will strengthen the organization and lead it to greater heights.

We serve 33 communities in Raja Park Area and 55 communities altogether to reach out to over 700 children directly and over 3000 children indirectly. We hope to continue in the same spirit for years to come, bringing solace and awareness among the members of these backward communities.

We have also applied to the government for a piece of land allotment to Prayas in the Amagarh slum area, for a school building, with the purpose of serving more under privileged children of slums. We hopefully await the fulfillment of this cherished dream.