As I walked into building where Disha Foundation is located, I was greeted with a traditional welcome ceremony by a young boy, who seemed just delighted to meet me ! I later learnt that he has Cerebral palsy. Post the warm welcome, I was taken into the central building. Resembling an arena, the building is bright and open. It was far from the care home I had imagined and instead there was laughing and shouting as children whizzed around on roller skates and joyfully played volleyball.
The main focus for Disha is “the inclusion of every child.” Their work revolves around three ‘centres’. The first focuses on special education. Comprising of 150 students aged between 3-30 years, the center caters to a wide range of disabilities including Down’s Syndrome, Autism and Cerebral Palsy. The main aim here is to enhance the potential of each child by providing them with an environment which facilitates their learning. Children are split into severity levels and there are classes for those aiming for academic progression through national open schooling. For others, education means learning functional everyday language and mathematical skills which are vital for independent living within society. For students who need further support, there is the recreational group which focuses on motivational games and fun activities. As I witnessed on my tour of the classrooms, educating these children is incredibly difficult and requires a great deal of patience. Luckily, Disha have assistants in the classroom for extra help and they can work with individuals who are struggling instead of allowing them to disrupt the rest of the class.
Education at Disha is highly interactive with a huge emphasis placed upon games and sports. The organisation believes this is one of the most important mediums for physical and social development. Their indoor and outdoor games include badminton, table tennis, and roller skating. Infact, their building has specially been designed to accommodate these activities – from high ceilings, to open spaces and surrounding grassy areas. Other creative activities are encouraged such as arts and crafts, dancing, music, and computer use. These not only stimulate creativity but help to dispel frustration which otherwise could make the child angry and unhappy.
The second ‘center’ is focused on therapeutic activities. Physiotherapy is fundamental with individual and group sessions taking place. As I was taken around the building, I witnessed therapy ranging from stretching, to posture work and children practising walking with crutches. I witnessed an aquatic therapy session in the centre’s swimming pool too. This is great for flexibility and coordination and settles hyperactivity. Since the installation in 2011, the pool has had an overwhelmingly positive outcome, with many functional milestones being achieved amongst the children attending these sessions. Occupational therapy works for facilitating independent living including feeding, mobility and toileting. A branch of this therapy is sensory integration which services children with sensory and behavioural imbalances. Disha has a sensory integration room which features different coloured lights and mats with differing textures.
The third ‘center’ focuses on vocational training which starts around age 14. These children cannot continue in education given their limited mental capacities and therefore the aim is to train them in skills which will enable economic independence. Activities I witnessed were girls beading scarves and a boy sewing material together to make a handbag. The children really seemed to appreciate this alternative form of education and it is commendable that Disha does not favour those children who can progress academically over those who cannot. Disha is extremely proud of its students vocational achievements. Paintings, bags, scarves and purses made by them are showcased in glass cabinets around campus. The vocational center serves 30 young adults today; from previous years, 6 have been employed within mainstream companies.
After a round of the center, I spoke with family members of some of the beneficiaries. One of them was Ankit Sharma’s father . Ankit suffers from Microcephaly which results in impaired learning and impaired motor functions. He has worked hard in his studies but his real passion is sports. He loves to swim; his best stroke is backstroke and he has competed nationally and internationally for India at the Special Olympics. It was really amazing to see the pride shining from his father as he talked about his son’s achievements and progress. Ankit’s father is incredibly supportive and learnt to swim, just to be able to help his son.
Mrs. Kavoori highlighted that the reaction of the parents is key in a child’s wellbeing, with families often hiding away disabled children and being ashamed of them, which hinders their progress.
I also met Sonu’s mother. Sonu has Cerebral Palsy. Through therapy and determination, Sonu can now walk with her walking frame. However this is very difficult for her so she spends most of the time in her wheelchair. Yet her mother is very pleased with her progress. Truly committed to helping her daughter, the family moved to Jaipur from Bikaner so that Sonu could attend a school that catered to her needs.
Disha plans to strengthen its community based rehabilitation program – an important step to spread awareness and advocacy in the local area. This program also offers counselling and consultation to families and individuals affected by disability. Disha aims to increase its research capacities too; so that it can become a pioneer for caring for the disabled and be a model for other disability NGOs to follow.
The organisation is not planning on expanding its project in terms of numbers but rather focus on the quality of care that it provides to its students. It wishes to offer its staff better salaries through increased donations; and add a third floor to the campus building to provide more space for its students. The organistion also wants to partner with local businesses and create more vocational opportunities for its students, which will increase the chance of these students getting jobs and being self-sustainable.
All their efforts are aims at providing care to the disabled by treating them as dignified human beings, striving to empower these people so that they can be mainstreamed into society.