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A match point for inclusion

Copyrights: Felita Viegas

A match point for inclusion

Balakrishna and Shankar are not just student and coach - they have a friendship built on trust and humour. Learn about their stories.

Balakrishna’s story

“Balakrishna has always been eager to learn and during the training, he has always listened attentively to all the advice I gave. But when he is on court playing a match, it’s like the world around him disappears and his eyes are glued only to the shuttle. He won’t listen to a word the coach says and just trusts his instincts – this could be the quality that has helped Balakrishna be the exceptional sportsperson he is,” says Shankar, a coach at the Rural Development Trust (RDT) Special Olympics Centre – the only centre affiliated with Special Olympics Bharat in Andhra Pradesh, India.

At the age of 13, Balakrishna started living at the RDT Centre for Children with Intellectual Disabilities, where he was provided with therapy and rehabilitation. Having gained interest in sports there, he was identified for further training for the Special Olympics. He started training professionally in various sports like badminton, basketball, volleyball and handball, with the help of his coaches.

Within a year, he was selected to represent India in the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Australia (2013) where he bagged two medals each in singles and doubles badminton. From there on, he was unstoppable, and has earned numerous accolades in state and national-level tournaments in all four sports. He won medals for India again in badminton at the Special Olympics World Summer Games in the USA (2015). Recently, he was invited to a tournament in Spain.

According to his coach, Shankar, Balakrishna’s journey has been transformative. Shankar remembers his initial time at the Special Olympics centre: “His parents were not willing to admit him to the centre. Being daily wage labourers, they lacked the resources as well as awareness about his disabilities. They were apprehensive about whether he would manage living alone, if he would be treated well, etc. But his elder sister did her own research into his condition and the centre, and convinced their parents. From being a shy and nervous kid who couldn’t walk straight or stop drooling, Balakrishna has grown to be a confident man who speaks courageously to anyone and everyone,” states Shankar with a wide smile.

Shankar’s journey

Interestingly, like his student, Shankar’s own journey has been profound. Being the son of agricultural labourers from a small village in Ananthapuramu district, his parents could not support his higher education, because of which he had to drop-out after grade 12, so that he could contribute to the family income.

All throughout, his desire to study further was strong. “I approached Moncho sir, the Programme Director of RDT and with the support of the organisation, I completed my bachelor’s and later my Master’s in Physical Education,” says Shankar. He was appointed as a physical educator in a government school and joined RDT as a Special Olympics trainer in 2011.

Cricket was one thing that the young and old in his village were obsessed with. The sport opened his avenues to numerous opportunities, including playing in different leagues, a chance to tour in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh as a part of the Indian B cricket team, improving the financial stability of his family. He also travelled to every state in India for further training. He has also been to 10 countries, and climbed Mount Kilimajaro in Tanzania.

But it is coaching children with disabilities at the RDT Special Olympics Centre that gives him immense joy. “I believe in teaching with genuine care and empathy, as those are most helpful in building trust with the students. I am always in awe of their abilities, as they outdo themselves every time. They have won accolades at almost every tournament they have played in, so watching them on the podium receiving medals and applause fills me with pride,” shares Shankar.

More than just coach and student

Having joined the centre at its beginning, the journeys of Balakrishna and Shankar have moved parallelly in growth and change in their personal lives. Their relationship transcends the boundaries of a coach and student, to be one of a friendship built on trust and “lots of humour,” like Shankar says. This opinion is reflected in Balakrishna’s confidence in his coach: “He’s my friend and close confidante. We play, fight, argue, but nothing changes between us.”

Recently, Balakrishna was appointed as an Assistant Coach at the centre where he once trained at. He has dedicated himself to build the confidence and trust, that he and Shankar have achieved through sports, with the other children - children that, like him, join the centre shy and scared, but have a chance at honing their potential and build a better life for themselves. “Balakrishna is a role model to the other children. The patience, care and confidence with which he approaches them is admirable,” remarks Shankar. “He applies and follows the coaching techniques that he has learnt during his travels and competitions all around India and abroad. And that is what really makes a difference”.

RDT (Rural Development Trust) is an NGO committed to the progress of vulnerable and disadvantaged communities in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, in Southern India. Since its inception in 1969, the organisation has endeavoured to improve the quality of life of the rural poor, with a particular emphasis on women, children and people with disabilities. It has progressively implemented comprehensive development programmes involving all areas of development.

Felita Viegas is the Communications Officer at RDT.

Tahiya Tarannum S works in the communications office at RDT.

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Felita Viegas & Tahiya Tarannum S

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Friday, November 27, 2020 - 19:23