Looking Ahead - St. Judes for Life (Founded in Memory of Mrs Rani Vicaji)
Our children and their parents, who have spent perhaps the most challenging times of their lives at our centres during their cancer treatment, share a lifelong bond with St. Judes. The mothers regard the centres as their maternal homes or 'maika', and to the children, it is truly their 'home away from home. St. Judes has played a significant role in the children's recovery. Therefore, it was a natural extension for us to assume some responsibility in ensuring a bright future for our children.
Most of our families are from the bottom of the economic pyramid and have made great sacrifices to ensure the child gets the best possible treatment. As a result, the families very often return to a life that is even more challenging than it was before cancer. Abject poverty, often compounded by the loss of income, lack of social support (stigma about cancer still runs deep in small towns and villages) and difficulty in readjusting back in school add to their challenges.
It was to ensure that our brave survivors have the support needed to overcome these concerns and fulfil their aspirations that St. Judes for Life (Founded in Memory of Mrs Rani Vicaji) was born. We have always believed that 'once a St. Judes child is always a St. Judes child' and to keep that promise, this vertical, St. Judes for Life, took shape in the middle of a global pandemic.
We believe that the children, who have been nurtured at our centres to recover from cancer, have a special, lifelong bond with St. Judes. As their go-to organisation in times of need, St. Judes for Life (Founded in Memory of Mrs Rani Vicaji) will always be available to provide support and guidance throughout their lives to help them reach their potential and fulfil their aspirations
To ensure that timely and appropriate assistance is available to St. Judes alumni to complete their education, maintain good health and lead successful lives. From the time of their enrolment, five years after the initial diagnosis of cancer, till they are independent and self-sufficient, St. Judes for Life (Founded in Memory of Mrs Rani Vicaji) will provide the appropriate intervention, directly or through experienced partners, to support, mentor and enable them to become upright contributing members of society. Children who stayed at our centres and are now between 6 years and 27 years of age have been enrolled in the new vertical. Every year we will add children who cross the five-year landmark and provide support across the relevant streams where it is needed.
Survivor is a term given to those diagnosed with cancer for over five years and are now well after completing their treatment. These children are referred to the ACT (After Completion of Treatment Clinic) at their treating hospitals, and St. Judes for Life works closely with the clinic to ensure their wellbeing with comprehensive care and support.
Poverty and remote locations make access to good education difficult. Parents have usually lost their income during the child's treatment. The entire family often bears the brunt of this, not just the recovered child.
Usually first generation learners or from barely literate families, our children lack role models for education, vocation and career choice.
Social stigma against cancer still exists, making integration into society a challenge. It is essential that these children are equipped to be self-sufficient and independent as family support may not always be available and marriage also often becomes a challenge.
For the St. Judes for Life (Founded in Memory of Mrs Rani Vicaji) programme, rather than the families coming to us at our centres, we will take the programme to their home towns. Unlike our centres' controlled and well-established environment, our challenge is to ensure the best support for the children in their home environs.
Considering the wide reach of our centres, we will soon support children from most parts of the country. All interaction has been remote due to the prevailing pandemic conditions; we will move into a hybrid model when feasible. We anticipate reaching out to over 2000 children by 2025.
Childhood cancers sometimes have long-term effects from the disease and its treatment. In some cases, there could be late effects that develop when the child is an adult. While supporting them with any financial or other support by way of prostheses, hearing aids etc., we also emphasise preventive health and fitness with input on diet and exercise.
In education, we support fees for school/college/coaching classes and vocational training. We help with purchase books and devices as required, a great necessity for online education. We have sponsored online spoken English and computer classes. Our approach is to ensure that the children complete a minimum of Grade 12 education and customise the support as per the child's requirement.
Children sometimes have problems reintegrating into their routine when back at home and may face difficulties with peers. Older children often bear the burden of guilt, and body image and acceptance issues make them psychological misfits. Thus counselling at regular intervals is essential to raise their self-worth and self-esteem.
- Career Guidance
Our children lack role models and guidance about the options that are available to them. Our career counsellor and an app-based service advise them about the best course for them, taking their interests and location into consideration. The goal is to help them fulfil their aspirations and help realign these if necessary.
A unique tool, the Aspiration Index, has been devised to enable us to customise the support to each child according to various parameters and considering individual circumstances.
As our older children are job-ready, we would give them interview training, recommend placements, and provide vocational training to those who opt for skill training over formal education.
Our support across streams will increase with time as we identify new gaps and needs.
We already see the requirement to provide advocacy and support for issues such as
- Children with special needs
We actively partner with other NGOs, with a pan India presence or in specific states, particularly in the field of education, to ensure successful implementation.
St. Judes for Life (Founded in Memory of Mrs Rani Vicaji) will continue to support our recovered survivors until they are self-sufficient and independent. Our dream is to help them grow to be responsible, upright citizens who will, in their time, reach out and provide a helping hand to others in need.
- Ms. Usha Banerji,
St. Judes For Life