Ritu Chopra, PhD
The Member Spotlight is focused on Dr. Ritu Chopra and honors the humanitarian work of her family dedicated to educating students with disabilities in India. Dr. Chopra is the Executive Director of the Paraprofessional Resource and Research Center (The PAR2A Center) at the University of Colorado. Since 1996, serving as the Principal Investigator/Project Director on funded projects, Dr. Chopra has been responsible for administration, training, research, and fiscal management of grant projects (over $38 million) at the PAR2A Center on a variety of grant funded projects. Under her leadership the PAR²A Center is recognized locally, nationally and internationally as a premier source of information on paraeducators (aka paraprofessionals, teacher assistants). Her areas of expertise include, Paraeducator professional Development and Supervision, Quality preparation for degreed and non-degreed personnel who serve children/youth with disabilities, Teacher diversity, Collaborative practices among paraprofessionals, teachers, parents and Leadership in inclusive schools.
Prior to moving to the US in 1990, Dr. Chopra had worked for over 10 years in the capacity of a teacher, trainer, researcher and administrator in various educational institutions in her native country, India. As an active member of the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), Dr. Chopra has served for several years on the Executive Committee and Board of Directors of DISES as Treasurer and the Chair of the Paraeducator Special Interest Group of CEC’s Teacher Education Division. She is the lead author of the Special Education Paraeducator Competencies, e-learning series on Effective and High Leverage Practices for Paraeducators and Special Education Paraeducator Assessment and Evaluation Toolkit recently published by CEC. Her current association with an initiative, Project Sambhav, in India is reflected in this spotlight.
Background: The Inspiring Story
Project Sambhav is situated within Deepalaya, a highly reputable non-governmental organization in India. Deepalaya was established in 1979 to address issues affecting the poor communities in urban and rural areas around New Delhi, India by offering services such as education and vocational training women, children and youth, and health initiatives. In 1987, Deepalaya began providing services to “differently abled” from low income urban and slum communities. Seven years later, Deepalya created a dedicated center for differently abled to offer special education and rehabilitative services for marginalized communities. Between 1994 and 2014, the center continued to provide services despite funding constraints. Dr. Chopra’s brother, Mr. Jyoti Sagar, who is a well-known attorney and philanthropist had served on the board of Deepalya for many years and was aware of the critical services offered by the differently abled center which were at risk of being discontinued due to lack of funding. To bring financial stability for this important work, in 2014, Mr. Sagar, Dr. Chopra and their other two sisters, Dr. Adarsh Sharma and Dr. Vimal Thakur renamed the center as Sambhav and began providing financial support to sustain and scale up the interventions through funding from Laj Jagdish Trust (LJT), a trust established in the memory of their parents. Mr. Jagdish Raj and Mrs. Laj Rani who passed away in 1982 and 2012 respectively, were both educators and had entrusted their children to utilize their estate and lifetime savings toward educational causes. Sambhav, in Hindi, means “possible”. For these siblings, ensuring opportunities and enhancing possibilities for the differently abled honors the wishes of their parents and carries on their legacy.
Family Inspired and Managed
All the siblings are the trustees the Laj Jagdish Trust and also serve on the management board of Sambhav along with Deepalaya leadership While Dr, Chopra’s work has focused on special education and inclusion, her older sister Dr. Adarsh Sharma is a well-known international expert and consultant in the field of Early Childhood Education and Human Development with a professional career spanned over four decades. Their combined expertise in the field of education is an asset for Sambhav.
Array of Services Provided
Sambhav has made the social Inclusion of children with disabilities in 27 low-income communities by providing care & holistic development, linkages to public schemes and policies, educational services including special education & remedial, inclusion, guidance and supports for pursuing and higher education, vocational training in computers and crafts, health & nutrition services and parent education.
Laj Jagdish Trust (LJT) covers 80% of the expenses for Sambhav. LJT was created with the estate of Dr. Chopra’s parents as the core of the corpus which was substantiated with additional funding from Dr. Chopra’s brother Mr. Jyoti Sagar. Currently, the trust is self-sustaining through interest income from the corpus invested in government bonds. The remaining 20% of the expenses are borne by Deepalaya.
The board (constitution described above) meets regularly to review the services, the budget and outcomes. The everyday administration of Sambhav is led by Mrs. Neha Sharama, Program Director at Deepalaya and Mrs. Kalpana Das. Sr. Project Coordinator for the Sambhav Project. They are supported by a team of 6 special education teachers, one physiotherapist, two vocational trainers and three drivers who provide transportation to the beneficiaries.
Significant Outcomes and Impact
This tremendous work has resulted in high impact and greater health and educational opportunities that have enhanced the quality of life for children, families and caregivers.
Salient outcomes are listed below:
- 4300 families with differently abled children served by symptom identification and providing health & educational services and linkages to other services.
- More than 1000 children trained for vocational skills for promoting livelihood and employability for promoting economic and social inclusion.
- More than 300 children mainstreamed to formal schools.
- More than 100 children linked with income generation private companies.
- Inculcated component of psychosocial counseling for upliftment of mental health and overall quality of life for beneficiaries and their caregivers.
Mrs. Neha Sharma and Mrs. Kalpana Das, Dr Chopra, and Dr. Sharama showcased Sambhav at the 2023 DISES Roundtable, Bangalore, in a presentation titled Enabling Inclusion for Specially Abled Children in Urban Slum Communities of Delhi. The presentation was very well received and the audience were so impressed by the funding model and found the concept of funding a humanitarian effort by a trust created by a family inspiring and motivating.