Voices That Care

Say Hello to ... Raja

Every single person in Care2Run’s ecosystem is essential, and we’ve grown so much in three years thanks to all the different individuals who’ve played a part in getting us to where we are.

It is for this reason that we aim to hand this section over to our people – our participants, coaches, volunteers, parents, friends and loved ones – so they can tell you what Care2Run means to them.

This week we say hello to ….. Raja Chinaya, a volunteer mentor and father to two differently-abled boys.

I HAVE never believed in keeping my children away from activities. But it’s not always easy finding a place where we can go as a family and feel comfortable that both our boys are accepted.”

“At Care2Run, however, we’ve found a community where there are no judgements and everyone can be themselves,” shares Raja Chinaya, a Care2Run volunteer mentor and father to two differently-abled boys, Naavalan and Navilan.

Raja is a diplomatic and administrative officer with the Ministry of Education, while his wife, Tamillarasi, is a teacher. He says, however, that having two differently-abled children and seeing them thrive in different settings, including at Care2Run, has altered his and his wife’s views on education.

But we’ll let Raja tell you more about all that in his own words …

Hello there, Raja. You’ve been with Care2Run for a few years now, as both a parent and mentor. How did you first get involved?
Hello. I got involved after I stumbled on a post on Facebook about a Care2Run programme at SMK Kelana Jaya, sometime in late 2016. My wife and I are always on the lookout for activities and programmes that we hope will help our boys. And it was during one of those times when we were looking for something for Naavalan that we got to know about Care2Run. It was fortunate, actually, because, at the time, we’d started to notice how Naavalan wasn’t physically active. He read a lot, drew and did other indoor things, but he wasn’t keen on physical activity and sports. Care2Run seemed like the perfect opportunity to help him get active.

What were the boys’ developmental journeys like?
Both boys were diagnosed at about two-and-half years. Naavalan has Asperger’s Syndrome and we started noticing his differences when he had difficulty socialising. He was withdrawn a lot, and when he did talk to people, he was a little blunt. Then we also noticed that he had routines that he insisted on following. And when the routines weren’t followed, he would cry. After Naavalan was diagnosed, we enrolled him in occupational therapy programmes and other related activities which we felt would help. As a result of the interventions taken, he was able to go to a mainstream school. And he is coping well.

Navilan, on the other hand, is on the autism spectrum. He couldn’t vocalise and had trouble expressing himself. He was about three when he started saying his first words. Initially, we sent him to the same kindergarten that Naavalan had gone to, but he couldn’t cope in that environment, so we enrolled him at special education centres. We’re still looking at the possibility of enrolling him in the special education programme at a government school.

You and Arasi are both working professionals in the field of education, but did you know much about special education before Naavalan was diagnosed?
We knew a little about special education and learning and developmental differences, but we didn’t know specifics. We knew about Down Syndrome, but not about autism or other difference. Only after Naavalan was diagnosed did we start reading about the various differences. The boys’ journey has been our journey too. It’s been a learning process for all of us.

Since getting involved with Care2Run, would you say the boys have progressed?
Definitely. Both the boys have improved thanks to the programmes. Navilan is definitely more engaged now. He gets along well with his peers and he really enjoys the sessions. During the Junior Leaders Programme (JLP), his mentor was Darshini, and both of them formed a very tight bond. So that, plus the fact that he was comfortable with so many people at Care2Run, allowed him to progress and gain confidence.

As for Naavalan, ever since he graduated as a Junior Coach, he’s become more focused and enthusiastic. He was actually part of the first JLP batch but didn’t graduate on time because he was ill and hospitalised then. I’m not sure whether that had an impact on him or whether it was because all the participants then were much older than him, but he didn’t interact with them as well. With this current batch, however, he seems quite different. He gets along with all of them and is eager to learn.

You mentored Anas during the recent JLP. Can you share with us about your experience with him?
Anas has improved tremendously. Yes, he has some challenges with speech and movement, but throughout the programme, you could see him getting better in terms of expressing himself. In the beginning, he used to stand by himself and wouldn’t engage with others, but by the end, he would join in when people were talking, and he knew almost everyone’s name.

What made you want to volunteer with Care2Run?
Being a parent of differently-abled kids, I know what other parents go through. So for me, I want to try and help in whatever way I can. People do charity in different ways. For me, it’s by sharing my experience and helping other kids and parents. Care2Run is very close to my heart. My family and kids have benefited from the programmes, so it’s only fair to give back.

Have your views on education changed a little because of Naavalan and Navilan?
Certainly. I think, in general, educators need to think about accommodating the child, rather than about accommodating themselves. However, that doesn’t happen as often as it should. In fact, very often you see teachers doing what’s easy for them. Our education system on the whole here, regardless of where you go, seems to be very exam-orientated rather than learning-orientated. It’s an approach that’s stressful for kids with no differences, so how much worse is it for differently-abled kids? We tend to focus on teaching kids how to do well in exams. But what happens after they finish with exams? How will they cope with life? For my wife and I, we feel it’s okay if our children can’t do well academically, there will be something that they like that they can excel in or some skill they can acquire.

What are your aspirations for Care2Run?
I hope we can generate more funding and manage to attract more volunteers. That will allow us to organise more programmes and expand our horizons. There are many parents and kids who could benefit from the programmes. We’ve come a long way already, but we must aim to go further.

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