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A Hand, not a Handout for the Disabled Child

Savita Narayan reports on an NGO that is trying to give the handicapped child opportunities for a full life and be well integrated with society

Nineteen years ago, when Dr Madhumita Puri was working with All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, she came across many children with physical and mental disabilities. What struck her was how worried parents were regarding their future and their ability to fend for themselves. These special children needed opportunities to lead full lives. Dr Puri, a PhD in psychology from Delhi University and a practising child psychologist, worked with the department of paediatrics at AIIMS.

The Society for Child Development (SFCD) was founded as a non-profit organisation to establish programmes and initiatives in 1992 to create a world of equal opportunities for people with disabilities. Under this initiative, Prabhat (which means dawn) was launched as a school for children with learning difficulties. Dr Puri says, “I started Prabhat because there was a need for such a facility here. Institutions for disabled children exist in other parts of Delhi for which the students needed to travel across the city. I began with my savings, increasing facilities and programmes as and when the need cropped up.” Today, Prabhat’s 70 students range from 3 to 18 years. The school offers learning with specially-designed workbooks and toolkits for basic academic concepts. Physiotherapy, speech and drama therapy are employed. Also included are outdoor activities, social-skill training and behaviour modification techniques.

SFCD has several market-oriented programmes that offer training to students over 18 years at its Vocational Training and Production Centre. The students produce high quality acid-free handmade art paper used by artists under the “Art for Prabhat” initiative started in 2001. An annual art exhibition highlights how beauty and creativity emerge from the efforts of handicapped children once they are made aware of their potential.

Clean Yamuna Temple Flower Project of SFCD converts flowers offered in temples into eco-friendly, herbal, coloured powders for Holi. These flowers were being dumped into the river Yamuna or left to fester in garbage dumps. Nearly 100 schools and 50,000 children from special, government and private schools have participated in cleaning the Yamuna. Eco-Tarang is a newsletter in which students of special schools report about their work on the environment. Trash-2-Cash produces coasters and fabric used for conference bags, curtains and pouches from discarded floppies, audio tapes, video tapes and other waste materials. A traditional weaver’s loom is used to manufacture durries, stoles, shawls and table mats.

SFCD has a holistic approach to disabled children. Disability India Network, a unique online resource, was started in 1999 to disseminate information on disability issues. Then came the pro-bono counsel for the disabled and their families—Online Legal Aid Cell. Both have provided much-needed information and support on schooling, employment, family law issues, property and financial matters concerning the disabled. The cell handles an average of 15 cases a month. It has also produced legal multimedia modules.

Awareness and sensitisation programmes with equal participation of disabled and non-disabled children together help build awareness and empathy. These have been sponsored by the National Green Corps of the ministry of environment and forests.

The Parent Support Network is a forum to provide support and education to parents on issues pertaining to the disabled. Many parents are disheartened only due to lack of awareness of therapy and opportunities for improvement of their children’s lives. The group conducts workshops on child rearing, raises awareness on employment and sexual health, rolls out micro-credit programmes for self-employment of the disabled, peer support, guidance and social interaction.

Dr Puri believes that the disabled Indian child does not need a handout, just a hand. SFCD’s aim is changing attitudes of parents and society at large in order to give the handicapped child all opportunities to lead a full life and be a well-integrated member of society. All donations are exempt from Income-Tax under Section 80G.

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