It was one of the many mornings that come and go but today there was a restlessness that I felt in my heart. I was aware that it was that time of the year again when the world tries to make a difference in the life of children with Autism by spreading awareness. I too wanted to do better than the last year when we had got our home decorated with blue balloons, lit it up in blue, asked friends and family to dress up in blue and send me pictures which I had compiled together to make an album on Face book, share a bottle of blue fruit champagne, got a local bakery to put up a print out on autism surrounded by blue balloons to draw attention of the customers and offer chocolates to all the kids that came in that day, in a bid to spread awareness. Wasn’t too bad considering I had only become aware of WAAD, World Autism Awareness Day, a fortnight before it is celebrated the world over on the 2nd of April every year.
This year had to be a step better, I needed to be heard a notch higher. On an instinct I decided to meet the Principal of Ryan’s International, Ms Sarita Katiyar, where my elder son attends school. I have met her often on my school visits and she always came across as a warm person. She knew that my younger son is on the spectrum, so when I went and met her with an idea of the Ryan’s children presenting a skit on autism awareness, she immediately agreed to it and gave very positive inputs and promised me full support.
Emboldened with this response my next stop was McDonald’s. This because it is a child friendly organization and I was hoping that if I could request them to put up a chart on autism awareness and dedicate a corner for the cause and decorate it with blue, at least some people might get curious about it and Google for more. But guess what?? After an initial meeting with the duty manager ( Mr. Amit), I was soon talking to their store manager ( Mr. Anshul Sharma), who in turn introduced me to their area manager( Ms Poonam Choudhary) . Over a fortnight and a series of meetings, it was decided that not just a corner of one store but all the Jaipur vide stores of McDonald’s were to go blue in support of Autism Awareness.
What followed were meetings with the Directors of Disha foundation Ms. Kavita Verma and Ms.Arpita Agarwal, Directors of Approach Autism Mr. Anurag Srivastava and Ms.Garima Srivastava, and the Principal of Kid’s Planet Ms Nisha Sharma to work out the nitty gritty of organizing the event. A meeting with Ms Girishita of Rajasthan Patrika, ensured a week long countdown with pictures and information on Autism, which I regularly sent them for their media portal, “Media Action Group”.
Soon enough banners were printed with the logos of Disha( a multi disability school), Approach Autism, McDonalds, Ryan’s International school, Kid’s Planet, Credent and Skorpious Films, who all partnered for the cause and contributed in making this a very successful event. Media too was present to cover this.
On the day of the event, everyone wore blue. McDonald’s store at Gaurav tower became the venue of the event, and was beautifully decorated with blue balloons and lights. Children from Ryan’s School Padmavati, dressed in blue gowns performed and sang beautiful songs. Our special children on the spectrum came down with their parents and care givers and enjoyed. A special child Dhruva showcased his talent to tell the day on which a given date falls on. Badges, “I Understand Autism”, were pinned up on walk-ins as they were told about Autism and a signature campaign was conducted. McDonald’s generously treated the children and volunteers to burgers and ice creams. The whole ambience of the place was ethereal and full of joy.
As I write this and look back, I realize what I had set out with and what ultimately was achieved was possible because there were people out there with lot of love, patience, warmth and willingness to make a difference, in their heart. All I did was to nudge them, like one does a domino. A little push and the effect starts. It is all there within us, we just need to recognize it and then there can be no stopping.
Post this event; I have loads of new friends, loads of promises, and loads of ideas to make it a bigger and better event next time round. I guess all I have done is to set the ball rolling and now it is up to all of us to make sure it does not stop at any court. If it is some encouragement, I have just been told that McDonald’s is seriously contemplating to continue this drive next year as well and with all its stores North India vide joining in. I want to name this event, “The Nudge”.
(On my bucket list for next year, “Light It Up Blue” for Jaipur, which could not be possible this year due to the “Code of Conduct” in place for the coming elections, though the letter drafted for the cause had reached the CMO).