A special educator gives children with intellectual disabilities a sporting chance to win accolades
Dhananjay Kumar has worked tirelessly in villages of Rajasthan to make sure the children with limitations in cognitive functioning and skills win a place in the sun in sporting events in both national and international arenas.
Amarpal Singh Verma 23 Jan 2023 11:07 AM GMT
Dharmendra Bhati is a class 10 student at the Rajkiya Senior Secondary School at Goluwala village in Hanumangarh district in Rajasthan. He does not speak much but does say he participated in the national badminton championship held at Bokaro in Jharkhand six months ago.
This was no mean feat as he had to work a lot harder than most to play in the tournament. Dharmendra, who is 17 years old, has what is called Intellectual Disability (ID), which means he has certain limitations in cognitive functioning and skills, including communication, social and self-care skills. These limitations often cause people having intellectual disability to develop and learn more slowly or differently than a typically developing child.
But, Dharmendra’s coach, Dhananjay Kumar couldn’t be prouder. “He is a good player and he will win medals soon,” he told Gaon Connection.
In 2021, Dhananjay coached five young boys coming from different government schools in Rajasthan to participate in a National Handball tournament held at Sonepat in Haryana. Aged between 13 and 18, all of them have intellectual disability.
Dhananjay Kumar, a special educator at Rajkiya Senior Secondary School, has played a huge role in encouraging the children with intellectual disability, to take part in athletics, cricket, volleyball, badminton, hockey, etc, in increasing numbers.
“Intellectual disability is a condition and not a disease and some children are born with it,” explained Dhananjay. “Children with ID are slower in learning, and performing. They struggle to communicate or look after themselves without help. For them the acts of just listening and grasping instructions, can be difficult. The levels of ID differ from child to child,” he added.
Initiating a dialogue with these children and getting them to communicate is challenging, Dhananjay said. “But, mingling with them on a regular basis helps them open up. When they do so, we begin training them,” he added.
He coaches children not just from his school but also from other private schools, non-profit institutions and from government schools. There are even those children who may not belong to any schools but have a love for games and playing, he said.
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This 50-year-old special educator became the sports director of the Rajasthan chapter of Special Olympics, Bharat, in 1999, and, in 2021, he became area director of the Special Olympics.
As sports director of the Rajasthan chapter of the Special Olympics, Bharat, Dhananjay encouraged and trained children with intellectual disability, and many of them went on to participate in national and international sporting events, and win gold, silver and bronze medals.
According to the educator, these children need a lot more practice than children who do not have intellectual disability. “Children usually have a competitive feeling in them, and the urge to win. It takes a lot of work before the same competitive spirit is instilled in children with ID,” Dhananjay pointed out.
A beacon of hope
For many parents, Dhananjay Kumar is a beacon of hope.
“I constantly worry about my son Rajesh who struggles with learning and communication. But, Dhananjay Sir has ensured my son reaches great heights,” Dhannaram Kumhar of Ladhuwala village in Sri Ganganagar district, told Gaon Connection. Rajesh won a gold medal in athletics at the international games in China in 2007, when he was 18 years old.
“I have won 32 medals. Dhananjay Sir not just trained me, he accompanied me to all the sporting events I participated in,” Rajesh, who is 32 years old now, told Gaon Connection.
Another Dhananjay protege, Aynu Sharma from Jaipur, held aloft a bronze and a silver medal that he won in 2019 at an international badminton championship held at Abu Dhabi.
“Dhananjay Sir taught me to play badminton and helped me get ahead. I owe a lot to him,” Aynu, who is 22 years old now, told Gaon Connection. Anyu has intellectual disability and as he showed off his medals he had won, his mother Rekha Sharma said, “Along with providing Aynu with badminton coaching, Dhananjay kept him encouraged and motivated. We owe him a lot,” she told Gaon Connection.
“So far eight children have represented the country and won international awards. Besides Rajesh Verma and Anyu, there is Amrit Pal Singh. In 2013, he participated in the World Games in Australia and won a silver in the 100 metres run and the gold in 200 metres events. He is 27 years old now,” Dhananjay said with pride of his proteges.
Under his tutelage and mentorship, nearly four dozen children have won several medals in National sporting events. “Most of them have been from Jaipur, Jodhpur, Sri Ganganagar, Pilani, Alwar and Ajmer. Those who won medals in International events were also awarded handsome cash incentives,” Dhananjay said.
“I have always wanted to work in the area of special education and chose that as my profession,” Dhananjay, who is originally from Patna in Bihar, told Gaon Connection.
A wealth of experience
Dhananjay brings vast experience and qualifications to his work. In 2011, he officiated at the Special Olympics World Summer Games at Athens, Greece as an assistant coach in volleyball; in 2013, he coached people for the athletics event during the Special Olympics Asia Pacific Regional Games held at Newcastle, Australia; in 2017, he was commended by the Special Olympics International for his contribution and commitment to the Special Olympics programme.
Dhananjay trained as a coach at the Lakshmibai National Physical University in Gwalior, and stayed there to become the university’s resource person and master trainer. He holds a Trend Trainer and a National Coach certificate from the National Special Olympics organisation, besides an advanced coaching certification.
In 1993, he began working with ‘Asha Ka Jharna’, a non-profit at Nawalgarh in Jhunjhunu in Rajasthan, established by a non-resident Indian, PN Agarwal. “I worked in the districts of Jhunjhunu and Sikar till 1999. I visited villages, identified children with special needs and in order to make them self-sufficient, encouraged them to learn business skills, take part in sports and cultural activities,” he said.
In 1999, Dhananjay came to Sri Ganganagar, in Rajasthan, where he worked with intellectually disabled students of Tapovan Manovikas Vidyalaya. As the institute’s principal he worked tirelessly to get the children to play sports. He organised state level sporting events for such children and on two occasions the children with special needs also took part in national level sporting meets.
It was in 2013, that he began working at the Rajkiya Senior Secondary School in Goluwala village in Hanumangarh, where he still is. There are 25 students with intellectual disability in the school, whom Dhananjay is training in sports.
On his part, Dhananjay refuses to take credit for his work with the children. “Each of us comes with a pre-ordained role to play in the world. God has chosen me for this and so I do this work. I do not think I am doing anyone a favour,” he said.
According to him, the children with intellectual disability might have lower IQs, but if their skills are identified and they are trained in it, they are the same as other children, if not better, he said.
“The need of the hour is not to be condescending with the children but to find what they are good at and hone that so that they find a place in the sun,” Dhananjay pointed out. He said people should stop viewing children with disabilities differently. “For us, all the children we work with are excelling in their chosen field of sport. That is a matter of great pride and happiness to us,” he concluded.