In a typical year, 17-year-old Manimeghlai would be training for the cycling competition in an upcoming Special Olympics event. But due to COVID-19, it’s been a year of mostly staying inside the SOS Children’s Village Khajuri Kalan in Central India.
Mani, as her friends call her, made her village and country proud by winning a gold medal in the 500-meter cycling event at the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi in 2019.
While she still cycles around the village, Mani has taken this year to discover new talents, such as sewing.
“This year has been especially challenging for us,” says Preeti Chauhan, a special educator at the Khajuri Kalan Village, which cares for 104 children, like Mani, who have a diverse range of intellectual abilities.
“The sudden lockdown resulted in only the permanent staff being able to look after the children in the village,” says Ms. Chauhan. “The children were restless and could not understand why they could not step out and go to school. We had a tough time explaining to them that this lockdown wouldn't be permanent.”
The staff tried different methods of explaining the virus to the children, such as staging plays and providing special counseling. “We wanted to mitigate their fears,” Ms. Chauhan says.
While the lockdown has been difficult, it has been rewarding to see that the changed schedule allowed children and young people like Mani to discover new talents. Mani started behaving more like the elder sibling, teaching younger children yoga, aerobics and cycling.
“The most fun, however, was to see how keenly Mani took up sewing,” says Ms. Chauhan. “So many of her siblings received trousers made by her during her sewing practice because that is the last thing she had learned when the vocational training school was open.
“They were so perfect that the word got around and everyone flocked to her with a request to make them one. Now we can’t wait for her to go back to the school and learn how to make shirts as well so we can complete our outfits,” says Ms. Chauhan, chuckling at the thought.
Manimeghlai, who has lived in the children’s village since she was three, seems happy to comply. But she is certainly looking forward to when her cycling coach can return to the village so she can prepare for the next competition.
Mani practicing her sewing skills
Learn more about how we empower young people so that they can thrive.