From adversity to advocacy: Yashesh Shah's journey to empower the mentally challenged

Now celebrating 20 years of transformative work, the JJCT Psychological Rehabilitation Center has empowered over 500 mentally challenged individuals to become self-employed through their innovative training programs.
The center’s placement department regularly organises employment fairs, inviting corporate companies to provide job opportunities, thereby integrating the disabled community into the workforce.
The center’s placement department regularly organises employment fairs, inviting corporate companies to provide job opportunities, thereby integrating the disabled community into the workforce.(Photo | Express)

GUJARAT: Yasheshbhai, a 51-year-old resident of Ahmedabad, has faced immense challenges throughout his life. His father battled severe depression, and after he married, his wife developed severe eye problems, eventually losing her sight after the birth of their child. His brother also suffered from mental challenges. Confronted with such overwhelming adversity, Yashesh Shah himself fell into depression. However, he refused to let his circumstances define him. With unwavering determination, he decided to dedicate his life to supporting the mentally challenged and disabled. This commitment led him to establish the Shah Jaswantlal Jeevanlal Charitable Trust (JJCT) Psychological Rehabilitation Center Institute.

Now celebrating 20 years of transformative work, the JJCT Psychological Rehabilitation Center has empowered over 500 mentally challenged individuals to become self-employed through their innovative training programs. Additionally, more than 30,000 disabled people have benefited from various initiatives led by the organization. The center’s placement department regularly organises employment fairs, inviting corporate companies to provide job opportunities, thereby integrating the disabled community into the workforce.

Yashesh Shah was born on January 17, 1974, in Maninagar, Ahmedabad. He hails from the prominent Sheth family of the Vaishnavite sect in Khanpur village, Dehgam. His father is an engineer and a retired government official.

Despite facing familial conflicts, Yashesh also encountered challenges in his career. His father, a government official, wanted Yashesh to become a doctor, while Yashesh’s passion lay in the arts. Yielding to his father’s wishes, he enrolled in medical school in Anand. However, due to his father’s frequent transfers and his mother’s struggle to manage the household alone, Yashesh had to leave his medical studies to support his family.

After returning home, Yashesh earned his BSc in Chemistry and an MSW degree. He then started a business to support himself but faced significant challenges. Just as he established his office, the 2001 earthquake struck Ahmedabad, forcing him to endure considerable struggles over the next two to three years to keep his business afloat.

Raised in a conservative family, his first marriage was arranged, and the couple had a son. Shortly after the birth of their son, his wife’s hereditary eye defect came to light. She was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a progressive and incurable condition, and was also battling depression.

Yashesh said, “I didn’t even know about my wife’s illness before marriage, but her blindness accelerated after our son was born. Since our first child was a boy, we learned there is a 75% chance that he might suffer from the same illness.”

This revelation plunged Yashesh into a state of deep emotional distress as a father.

On one side, Yashesh Shah was grappling with his own challenging situation, while on the other, his younger brother was facing mental health issues due to slow mental development. Opinions from doctors varied: some diagnosed mental retardation, others suggested it was a minor cognitive delay, and a few hinted at potential madness. On a friend’s advice, they consulted a psychologist and discovered that his brother had a “low IQ with bipolar disorder and manic condition.”

Despite being mentally shattered by his father’s depression, his wife’s illness and subsequent divorce, and his brother’s mental health challenges, Yashesh Shah found a guiding light in his neighbor, a psychologist. The doctor recognized Yashesh’s innate artistic talent and suggested he channel his energy into something constructive. Inspired, Yashesh established a small trust based on his own business to support those in need. Amid his ongoing struggles, Yashesh founded the JJCT Psychological Rehabilitation Center Institute in 2004, named in honor of his father.

The trust strives to reintegrate mentally challenged children into society. To date, it has served nearly 30,000 children, who are now living happy and independent lives. The center continuously aims to help as many people as possible through various projects and is dedicated to researching solutions to combat prevailing psychological issues.

With a mission to provide quality education, training, and guidance not only to mentally disabled but also to their families and society at large, the trust is making a profound impact. Thanks to the significant contributions of the medical team and educators, the center works to normalise the behavior of mentally challenged students, enhance their learning skills, and nurture the unique talents of each child.

To rehabilitate the mentally challenged, the JJCT team includes a diverse panel of doctors comprising psychiatrists, neurologists, pediatricians, physiotherapists, and occupational therapists. The team of teachers features Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI) registered professionals such as rehabilitation psychologists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, caregivers, and behavior therapists.

Yashesh Shah explains, “When a mentally challenged child first arrives, they go to the OPD or see a rehab consultant. We take a detailed family history, and if the child has a clinical problem, we refer them to a doctor or consultant at the institute. This entire process is offered at a discounted rate or sometimes completely free.”

“Children aged 5 to 23 years are admitted to the school based on their level of need and provided with both education and treatment. We focus first on basic education, followed by skill development to enable them to engage in various trades. Special courses, including art activities like painting, are designed for them. Alongside their training, we offer family counseling to ensure they can reintegrate into society successfully,” he added.

Shah said, “When a boy reaches 14 to 15 years old, he should start vocational training. He can then choose from any of the 59 business-oriented courses that interest him. By the age of 18, he should complete this training and be ready for his career. We organise corporate partnerships to help them secure jobs.”

Juhi Malviya, a resident of Ahmedabad living with Down syndrome, completed her training at JJCT. For six years, she has been creating beautiful Varli paintings on wood, earning enough to support her family and cover her own expenses.

A family with many difficulties

Raised in a conservative family, his first marriage was arranged, and the couple had a son. Shortly after the birth of their son, his wife’s hereditary eye defect came to light. She was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a progressive and incurable condition, and was also battling depression. On the other hand, his younger brother was facing mental health issues. They consulted a psychologist and discovered that his brother had a “low IQ with bipolar disorder and manic condition.”

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