After working in the corporate sector for about five years, 27-year-old Abhishek Tatiya quit his job as a product development executive in CRISIL last year to work on a concept he could call his own. “It was a call from the heart, to start something that could make a difference. I met numerous people in the process. I was finally influenced by my friend Mansi Shah and her capabilities to connect with people,” says Tatiya, co-founder, Happy Feet Home. He got in touch with Mansi, who already had eight years of experience in the development sector and proposed the idea of starting India’s first hospice for terminally ill children. Mansi, who was also planning something on similar lines, was more than happy to hop on board and in February this year, Happy Feet Home was officially flagged off in Mumbai.
Mansi recounts her first experience in a child centre which, she says, gave wings to this idea. “When I first walked into the St Jude India Childcare Centre, I was pleasantly surprised. Never had I seen a place so well maintained and cheerful. St Jude provides shelter to children who are fighting cancer. I realised that I want to get involved with it in some capacity,” she says. Mansi joined the team of St Jude and was responsible for cultivating an ‘emotional space’ for the children.
“I was to ensure that every child is happy and engaged. Tough job I say, but I have seen children completely engrossed in solving a puzzle right after a severe chemotherapy session. I have seen them forget their pain and their illness when they are a part of the activity; I have seen parents feel good every time they see their child laugh out during a game. It is here that I realised how much it matters to keep children engaged and motivated while receiving treatment,” she recollects. Mansi worked with the organisation for a year and realised that even though India has several shelters and organisations for terminally ill children receiving treatment, it does not have enough options for children with no hope of survival.
“It’s almost like when the doctors give up on hope, everybody gives up on the child. I firmly believe that every individual, irrespective of caste, class, or religion, has a right to a dignified end in life. This is where my inspiration comes from. I know there is a need and I am aware that together Abhishek and I will do wonders,” says the elated co-founder of Happy Feet Home.
Given the uniqueness of their concept, Happy Feet Home soon picked up its first collaborator in Lokmanya Tilak Municipal General Hospital (Sion Hospital). “This is going to be India’s first children’s hospice exclusively serving children with debilitating illnesses and their families. At the hospice, we will create a lively and well-planned space that is child friendly and vibrant,” says Tatiya.
Plans for the hospice have already been executed and what started almost 10 months back will take final shape by January 2014. “We aim to add life to the children’s days by providing them with as much normalcy as possible. Expert therapists will plan special programmes and activities for all the patients,” says the finance graduate.
Mansi adds that the hospice will begin with a day-care centre. “The day care hospice will also look to provide respite to the families of the patient. We will offer planned activities, therapies and counseling to the patients and their care-givers,” says Mansi. Interestingly, the services at the hospice will be provided free of cost to the beneficiaries. “That’s correct. Our aim is not money-minting but to make each day a memorable one and to create a safe space for the children to be children,” says Tatiya.
While the organisation is now registered with ICPCN, an international body for children’s palliative care, they have recently been allotted a space of 1,200 sq ft at Dharavi Hospital (a division of Sion Hospital). “We are looking at various options to raise funds to start operations. Also we are getting Happy Feet Home registered as a trust and we have some important people who have agreed to be on our trust board,” says Mansi.
Since the beginning of the project, the two quit their full-time jobs to dedicate themselves in setting up Happy Feet Home without earning a single penny. But they say, they are more than ‘happy’ to build a lively and colourful place for children; something which has so far been fulfilling for both of them. “We will set up a vibrant space which is safe for children to be children and enjoy their life,” says Tatiya.