Little Stars: Differently-abled stitches over 1,500 masks for health workers, police

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Raji Radhakrishnan doesn't know what a virus is; nor does she know what the COVID-19 pandemic is, but when her mother told her that together, they could make masks to help people, she immediately agreed.

Usually, to make her do a work, her mother Prabha has to promise her little gifts or money, but this time, Raji took none. The little girl with the physical age of a 30-year-old had somehow realised that she was doing something good that couldn't be valued with currency. So far, Raji has stitched over 1,500 masks for distribution among health workers and police force in the state.

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"Differently-abled Raji herself came forward to stitch masks and follow the health department's instruction that everyone should wear masks during the COVID season," read Health Minister K K Shailaja's Facebook post appreciating Raji and asking more people who know stitching to help people by making masks. Raji, who had learnt sewing from her mother Prabha, had personally handed over the masks she made to the minister.

While making the masks, Raji cuts the fabric and stitches and Prabha helps with fixing the elastic strings on both sides. She has already stitched more than 500 masks after the 1,000 ones handed over to the minister. Proud of her daughter, Prabha, says, "She doesn't know that she is part of an important mission, but on hearing appreciations, she smiles. She is happy."

Raji was born with intellectual disability as the youngest child of Radhakrishnan Unni, a railway employee, and Prabha, after their sons Prabhu and Reju. The initial years were hard for the family, but they learned to cope up and fight. When Raji became uncomfortable with the atmosphere of special school, Prabha decided to homeschool her. At home, she learned to draw, paint, make jewellery and stitch. "She makes jewellery, art works and listens to music. We had organised an exhibition of her works too," says Prabha, who decided to support other mothers to explore the talents of their differently-abled children and help them gain self-confidence.

Six years ago, Prabha founded Mother Queen Foundation, an NGO which supplies food kits among families of differently-abled children in Thiruvananthapuram. "We have been supplying kits comprising essentials, diapers and antiseptics to 20 to 40 families every month, and offer free meals to 150 people in Ayurveda Hospital in Poojappura every month. The lockdown has affected the food distribution, but I still managed to hand over the kits to the families who would otherwise lack resources, by transporting it in autorickshaws and a scooter," says Prabha, who also helps guest workers in her locality by providing them food, cots and fans.

Prabha's biggest fear is that one day, Raji might be alone with no one to take care of her. "That's the nightmare of every mother with a special child. My dream is to build a shelter for children like my Raji and their parents who would grow old and weak, and wouldn't be a burden on others. We have already got 45 cents of land in Adoor for that. What we require now is support and help from Good Samaritans to build the rehabilitation centre," she says, adding, "It's not easy to fulfil such a big dream."

As for Raji's dream, she utters in her little voice these few words, "Amma will help me. I will stitch more."

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