“More than a billion people in the world today experience disability. People with disability generally have poorer health, lower education achievements, fewer economic opportunities and higher rates of poverty than the people without disabilities. This is largely due to the lack of services available to them and many obstacles they face in their everyday lives from the society, rather than their disability. Disability is not only a public health issue, but also a human rights and developmental issue.” World Report on Disability” Produced by WHO and World Bank [14.12.2011]
I, Sr.Tessy Parappuram RA started a Community based rehabilitation program of the differently abled children in the community of Harnaut, an interior village in India in the year 2000. As a pioneer in Harnaut I used to visit the people in different villages. I identified several differently abled children primarily polio affected. They were to a great extent neglected and were in a pathetic condition, a sort of burden for the parents. I sensed the urgency to do something for them. Subsequently, I came to know about Lillian Foundation, who assists the differently abled children. Most of them were in need of surgical treatment to restore their deformity. It took countless effort and energy to convince the parents about the need of surgery. Doctors were extremely noble and cooperated with the rhythm of the patients and their family.
The goal of Community based rehabilitation program was:
Teachers, parents, as well as external experts, all have the same goal and work with commitment. Our first priority for these children is their social and emotional development. Children with physical challenges often have difficulty with relationships because of their physical limitations. Moving through each stage of development - social, emotional, and intellectual as well as physical development, is much harder for them but still do-able. Being a community based venture it gives us greater opportunity to interact with the families and communities on a regular basis
Besides, we aimed at bringing the differently abled children to the main stream of the society. Consequently, they would be competent and equal to other children in society. Even though these children are having physical disability most of them are gifted, smart, and able to study well and express their talents in various areas of life. This program has been assisting a number of children and youngsters by providing them education, medical and social rehabilitation.
Through education we helped the children to become self-confident, courageous and daring. We supported them with better opportunity to grow and become part of the community. It helped in the over-all development of the person i.e., physical, mental, social, spiritual, psychological and economic. Let me narrate the rehabilitation process which was extensive and hectic.
Rehabilitation process: The process started with convincing parents, contacting hospitals, related persons, for a medical check-up leading them to rehabilitation. Around 8 to 10 children at a time are taken together by train to the hospital named, ‘Hope Hospital’ Patna and ‘Virayathan’ in Rajgir for surgery and medical help. (). It was very hard to take these children by train because they were not able to walk. I used to stay with them in the surgical ward on the first day of surgery which was encouraging. The parents and children were exceptionally happy. I must admit that the railway department was also kind and cooperated to stop the train till all the children boarded the train. Similarly, more than 500 polio affected children have been operated for the deformity. All the surgeries were successful and all the crawling children are now able to walk. We have helped them for studies and for income generation activities. Many of them have succeeded in securing a job, have married and are settled well in life.
Regular Visit to their Homes and Coaching Centres: We regularly visited each child’s home and their study centres. The main purpose of our visit was to have personal contact with the parents and the teachers. We received information about their progress in studies from the teachers. By visiting their homes, we established good rapport with the parents and came to know about the situation of their family. This in turn helped us to understand them and care for the children in a constructive and life promoting way.
Competitions in Singing, Speech and Reciting Poem: We conducted competitions in singing, painting, reciting poem, small skits, quiz, etc. These competitions provided the children an opportunity to bring out their hidden talents. They took active participation in competitions. Prizes were distributed to the winners and consolation prizes to all those who participated.
Sports Day: At the occasion of International Disabled Day (3rd December) we arranged sports for our disabled children. All took part with enthusiasm. We were delighted to witness their joy, energy and life.
Monthly meeting was conducted on the 1st Saturday of every month where all the children participated. It is a noble opportunity for the children to meet their companions and share about their studies. During this meeting input session was given based on health, protection of environment, communicable diseases and their preventions, HIVAIDS, personal and environmental hygiene, different diseases, its causes and prevention and the importance of education. All these sessions were given either by power point presentation, film shows, storytelling, and question answer or in a discussion method. As per the need financial assistance was offered for their studies such as: tuition fees, college registration fees, text books, copy books, medical expenses, and dresses. Besides, personal attention was given to each child.
Study Tour: Every year they are taken for a study tour to different places such as, Zoo, Science City and Museum in Patna, Budhgaya, Pavapuri and Rajgir. It helped them to explore new realities, interesting facts which benefitted them in their studies. What they learned in the class they perceived concretely and with practical sense. Further, after returning from the study tour each student was asked to give a written report about their experience so that they are encouraged to learn more. They feel extremely happy as they had seen things which otherwise, they would never have seen in their life. More than 500 children have been operated for correcting the deformity (mainly Polio affected children). All the surgeries were successful and all the crawling children are now able to walk.
As we have a community-based scheme, it gave us better opportunities to interact with the families and communities on a regular basis. We provide education up to graduation, medical and social rehabilitation. After the surgery we provide tricycle, callipers, vocational training, tailoring along with tailoring machine, and small shops for Income Generation Programme [IGP]. We visited their homes and the institutions they study in on a regular basis. We continued to have close contact with their parents, encouraged, supported and provided the necessary knowledge. The success of this mission was that most of them continued their education and with the income generating programs such as: stationary shops, computer trainings, foot wear shop, tea shop, working in call centres, teaching in private schools, they self-reliant even though not totally but give a great amount of contribution to their family income. This improves their decision-making power, status in life and they walk with uprightness in the society.
When I think of my 42 years of missionary life in Bihar with the poorest and marginalized people the happiest moment was the time I had spent with the differently abled persons. It gave me abundance of joy and fulfilment when they were constructively rehabilitated and contributing to the growth of the society. The joy of these children who were once crawling on the floor, now could stand up for the first time in their life, imbibed me with the experience of Jesus’ healing ministry. The first child who was operated told me “Sister even my Parents didn’t love me as you love me”.
Sr. Tessy Parappuram RA, Harnaut, Bihar