Monday, June 17, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

School of hope

Update : 29 Mar 2016, 06:24 PM
Shopon was only six years old, when he was assessed and registered as a child with disabilities (CWDs), when he walked through the doors of Bangladesh Protibondhi Foundation (BPF) - a boy who could barely talk and communicate like an average child of his age. Since then, the authorities at BPF have put their heart and soul into providing treatment and helping Shopon, and many more children like him, to become educated and functional members of society. Now in his adulthood, he speaks fondly of representing Bangladesh in the Special Olympics, visiting various countries like Korea, Greece, Australia, Sri Lanka and winning gold medals for the country. His talent on the pitch is only outshone by his knack for designing clothes and cooking, as he is remarkably aware of his rights. Shopon’s success story is merely one among countless others, courtesy of the effort put in by the members of BPF since its inception in 1984. Late poet and social activist Sufia Kamal is the founding chairperson of this organisation, with Professor Emeritus Sultana Zaman being its general secretary. During the time of its establishment, there was little understanding of disabilities and hardly any organisation that was self-sufficient and fully capable of providing for them. In this context, BPF were highly successful in representing the concerns of parents and involving communities, policy makers, educationists and health and rehabilitation specialists at the national level in order to develop services for CWDs, establish their rights and educate families. The strength of their operations lies in the development of evidence-based strategies for the prevention, early identification and optimum development of CWDs, including those at-risk. Not only that, the foundation also reaches out to the poorest children to ensure educational and social participation, economic empowerment and inclusion in the mainstream. Ferdausi Maula, the project coordinator, provided us with a tour of the entire facility, starting with the assessment unit where a doctor evaluates the mental age of a child through various functional tests. Dr Qumrunnnahar suggests that parents can be the first ones to detect an at-risk child. However, Maula points out that there lies a taboo in our society as parents fear that the community would brand their child as disabled, even if they are simply being careful and consider the possibilities. In this way, we can end up doing more harm than good, and further hinder their development instead. We moved on towards the counselling centre where, if assessed and registered as a child with disabilities, the child is sent to a counsellor who further evaluate and provide an action-plan and packages for children and parents of those who are suffering from autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and deafness or blindness. Later on, we visited parts of the institution and it was delightful to come across talented youngsters at the workshops, sewing section, sales centre, kitchen and activity classes. These are the units that equip children with disabilities with important life skills and vocational know-how, which give them a fighting chance to become a working member of society. Some of them triumphantly stated that they had made our nation proud by winning medals and recognition at the Special Olympics. The school provides special education for children who are diagnosed with cerebral palsy, visual or hearing impairments, autism spectrum disorder and other such disabilities. It further offers inclusive primary education which follows the national curriculum of Text Book Board. The institution also provides lunch for the students. “This is the main reason behind impoverished students continuing their schooling here at BPF,” suggests Dr Shamim Ferdous, executive director of Bangladesh Protibondhi Foundation. “Lack of funds limit what we wish to offer them, so much that we cannot even offer any protein for lunch. I remember once, we put in tiny shrimps in the daal, the kids had never been as joyful as on that day.” Dr Ferdous, who has been with the foundation since 1988, says that it is tough run an organisation as big as BPF with insufficient funds. “Even the Braille tools which we use for the blind children are handmade by the teachers. Our students participate in major global sporting events like the Special Olympics, but there is no field, equipment or funds to practice on and improve their talents. We mainly rely on zakaat and donors who sponsor the operations. Hence, more donations are welcomed, be it in cash or kind, anything to help the foundation run.” When asked about BPF’s achievements, she answers that there has been considerable amount of improvement in this sector, with more assessment tools developed that allow early intervention and identification. The special education provided by the foundation also helps students to cope in mainstream schools. Parents are more aware about symptoms and know how to deal with a child with disabilities. Professionals are trained at the Bangladesh Institute of Special Education, another wing of the organisation which offers graduate and post-graduate degrees on special education, alongside short training courses, and is affiliated with the National University of Bangladesh. Dr Ferdous states that the government’s role should be appreciated since the rights of children with disabilities are now somewhat protected thanks to The Disability Right and Protection Act-2013 and Neuro Developmental Disability Protection Trust Act-2013, drawn up under the current government. Five of the Sustainable Development Goals focus on the protection and development of a special child, which tells us how important an issue it really is. We live in a nation where there still exists significant stigma around disability, making these children some of the most vulnerable members of our society. In this context, it is heartening to see the Bangladesh Protibondhi Foundation provide these children with a better future, and create an alternative world – where children with disabilities are embraced and made not to feel like burdens, but functional and valued members of society.
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