Inclusiveness is the quality of including many different types of people and ensuring a fair and equal opportunity, equal rights, and dignity for each person.
If we look around we would be able to identify people being excluded based on caste, class, religion, physical and mental abilities, gender etc. While it is very easy to exclude people based on whatever category we put it under, it is often difficult as an individual or organization to give and make spaces to people that are inclusive. Special efforts have to be put in for inclusion.
At Nishtha we strive to create spaces within and outside the organization that include people, make our spaces accessible to each and every person and so enable them to contribute towards a better tomorrow.
Bhalobasha is a Day Care centre for children with disabilities and special needs.
Over the years of Nishtha's work in the villages of South 24 Parganas, we have observed the challenges faced by girl children and how discrimination and exclusion doesn't allow them to grow and contribute to society. But what has been equally disturbing is the non-acceptance of children with disabilities or special needs both by the parents as well as the communities. It takes a lot of time and counselling for the parents to accept the challenges of bringing up a child with special needs. Often parents would just let the child remain without any care and support, sometimes out of shame but mostly because they are unaware of the needs and how to address them. Even in big cities the support system available for children with special needs is bleak, so rural communities are even more ill equipped with systems and attitudes towards such children. This is what prompted us to start our Day Care centre and it has been one of our challenging efforts but also most enriching and learning experience.
As our endeavour has been to provide therapy, professional services to the children, our focus has been to help parents so that they are better equipped to support the children. It is also our effort to create a barrier free environment and accessible for all not only within our organization but with the public spaces around us.
Beginning 2015 Bhalobasha has had about 54 children with different and often multiple disabilities; most of the children here are diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy and mental retardation. Children with orthopedic impairment, hearing impairment, visual impairment are also enrolled at Bhalobasha. The team at Bhalobasha, includes its coordinator, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, special educators, speech therapists, psychologist, PMR doctor, providing rehabilitation and therapy for children with disabilities. This year Bhalobasha had about 47 children throughout the year.
Even though the ICDS and formal schools in our country and state lack of provisions and facilities for Children with Disability, it has been the constant endeavor of Nishtha and Bhalobasha to ensure that children are not only enrolled in them but also benefit from these provisions. About 10 children attend school on days when they do not need come to Bhalobasha for their therapy.
Another initiative has been ensuring that the parents avail of services of government hospitals - NIOH (National Institute for Orthopedically Handicapped), NIHH (National Institute for Hearing Handicapped), NIMH (National Institute for Mentally Handicapped), along with Government health schemes RBSK (Rastriya Bal Swastha Karyakram – National Child Health Program) are some such provisions. Availing of government schemes and services like aids and appliances, having a disability certificate for availing disability pension etc. is part of the work.
Training for parents starts with lunchtime at Bhalobasha where parents are able to learn hands-on food habits and feeding procedures for the child among others. Along with this parents are also present for each therapy session understanding the special needs of their children for ensuring home based care and activities for daily life.
An important part of Nishtha's work has been to provide safe shelter for children of sex workers. As sex workers are one of the groups excluded because of one of their identities, it is most challenging for the sex workers to raise their children and give the child a Safe space. The children are brought up in very difficult circumstance without proper health, hygiene and education support. The Day and Night shelter Nishtha has created near the red light area in Baruipur thus tries to provide that Space to the children. The past many years of experience and success of this Space shows that girls have been able to complete education; take up a livelihood option that is as per their merits and qualification, their choices and not forced on them due to their mother's identity.
Nishtha's centre provides the necessary positive support to the children which includes not only studies but hygiene and cleanliness practices, therapeutic dance, art and music, etc. Many of these children are enrolled into formal schools where they have been well accepted. The trainings and services ensure that these children do not face the risk of addictions to drugs, are not forced into sex work or at the risk of being trafficked. The children are growing up with self-esteem.
The Day Care centre is an important part of Nishtha’s initiatives as this support is provided to children from 19 villages around the centre. It supports children with no care, support and security at home, with both parents working to make ends meet. Without the centre these children would be denied their basic survival rights and right to protection and development.
About 100 children avail the Day Care facilities. The children go through education like other formal schools with teachers appointed for teaching different subjects. The children are also provided with mid-day meal support to give them the required nutritional inputs. Apart from formal education creative expressions like yoga, dance and art, computer education are also provided to the children. The children successfully enrol into formal schools.
Another of Nishtha's efforts has been to work with old and elderly women. As women grow up without any economic stability and dependent, as they grow old they are considered even greater burden to the family and society. We have been providing sponsorship support for their food and clothing and realize that given the necessary emotional support these elderly women can contribute much through their years of experience of handling families, children, household and many times even farming and other livelihoods. At Nishtha we believe that if our present generation children are together with the elderly they could learn a lot from their stories, life experiences and relive the past to us.
Women’s groups and adolescent groups in the village regularly visit the elderly women, providing needed support including medical emergencies. Youth leaders sensitize community on the emotional needs of the elderly through awareness campaigns.
We look forward to working more intensively with the elderly women as they can provide their expertise and support our other initiatives.