From Durham Uni PhD to special needs ministry in India

18 October 2018 |

Langham Scholar Susan Mathew was inspired by her time studying for a PhD at Durham University to start a pioneering project for special needs children back home in India. Susan and her husband both teach at a seminary there, and have a 15-year-old son with cerebral palsy. When Transform interviewed Susan back in 2009, the project was just a dream. But now it’s a reality and eight years on, hundreds of families have been impacted. LPUKI’s Digital Content Producer Victoria Marsay recently caught up with Susan to find out more about her story:

“I live in Kerala, the Southern state of India, with my husband Mathew and we have four boys, aged 22, 20, 17 and 15. Our youngest son Jyothish was born five weeks prematurely and has cerebral palsy. In 2006 I began studying for a PhD at Durham University. We were there as a family in Durham during my studies. I received support from the Langham Scholars programme from my second year onwards.

Susan Mathew and her family. One of her sons has special needs due to cerebral palsy.

Susan Mathew and her family.

“The first three years of Jyothish’s life were very difficult. It was hard to get enough support and care for him in our local area. So we travelled to distant places, we rented houses and stayed there for months just to get physical therapy. But when we reached England, we understood that the NHS gives good educational support, treatment and care to children with special needs.

“So when we understood the difference between developing countries and developed countries, we wanted to start a centre to give families with special needs children the care and support we received in Durham.

The demand is increasing

“In 2009, the final year of my PhD, we started a centre giving free physical therapy and care for children with cerebral palsy, but in 2010 we understood the need of children who are affected with different types of disabilities. So we opened our doors for all children who need our help – now we are giving support not only for children with cerebral palsy, but also those who are mentally challenged, visually impaired, have Down’s Syndrome, autism and ADHD.

“There are 190 children at the moment, every day admissions are coming, the demand is increasing.

A class at Deepti Special School.

A class at Deepti Special School.

“We are trying our level best to give them integral care and support. We are supporting not only children, but also their families. Some fathers have left the home just because their child has a disability. And there are social taboos, discriminations and problems because of the stigma attached to disabilities. So we are giving the families counselling, occasional training, support and medical care. Last year we started a counselling and guidance centre for the teenagers.”

Help from Durham

The school, Deepti Special School and Rehabilitation Centre, was set up in partnership with a special needs school in Consett, Durham. A team of teachers and teaching assistants from there helped set up the school in 2010.

Susan says her and her team are trying their best to provide integral care and support to children and their families.

Susan says her and her team are trying their best to provide integral care and support to children and their families.

Susan and her husband are also involved in teaching at Faith Theological Seminary, Kerala.

“We are also teaching a course on ‘Disability Perspectives’ through the Senate of Serampore College. The students get to see how we are ministering to the children and their families. There are more than 40 staff working with us at the school, so it’s also a challenge to look after the administration.”

A book to comfort Christians

Despite her many responsibilities, Susan is also writing a book based on the passage in 2 Corinthians where Paul prays three times for God to remove the thorn in the flesh, but is told “My grace is sufficient for you and my power is made perfect in weakness”. She hopes her book will help comfort Christians who are experiencing different types of problems. She explained:

Deepti Special School - badge“For example, yesterday a parent of one of our children came to me and we were talking together and then she said, ‘I’ve been longing to speak to you for a few days because I was so depressed and I couldn’t move. I was thinking about the future and the future of my child’. I was also facing tension and a struggle for a few days but I realised that God wants me to go through such problems and realise the situation of people who are experiencing similar conditions and help them, comfort them, through the comfort we are receiving from God. Just like Paul says, we received comfort from God and we are passing on that same comfort to you. (1 Corinthians 1)”

Susan is incredibly thankful that she is a Langham Scholar: “Langham Partnership helped me very much. I’m really glad that I’m part of the Langham family! Without Langham’s support I would not have finished my PhD. It’s God’s grace, and also I’m thankful for God’s work through Langham Partnership.”

PhD impacts children and families

She said her PhD has greatly impacted her ministry, “not only among the seminary students, but also among the children with special needs and their families who are in need”.

She added: “It was really a great experience living in Durham, and being a member of Langham Partnership and also being a member of Durham University.

A child taking part in Occupational Therapy at Deepti Special School.

A child taking part in Occupational Therapy at Deepti Special School.

“Then last year, Langham Partnership gave me the opportunity to come to the UK and study in Bristol – I used the library at Trinity College and worked on my research on disability. It was really an opportunity for me because I’m really busy here with the ministry, and with treatment of my son.

Thankful for Langham Partnership

“After coming back to India my son has had four operations, so he’s having his own health issues. So all these problems frustrated us very much. But in the midst of that, I was able to come to the UK and do my research. It was really a great opportunity and I am thankful for Langham Partnership for helping me.

“When we are in ministry like this in India, and when we are busy with all these ministries and our child who suffers with cerebral palsy, it’s a really great support. There are people around the globe who are supporting us, praying for us, and also caring for us. It’s really a great encouragement.”

Donate towards the Langham Scholars’ programme, and help people like Susan.

This article first appeared in the LPUKI magazine Transform.

Now there are 190 children and 40 staff at the school.

Now there are 190 children and 40 staff at the school.

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