From top: Mohd. Parvez; Mir Syed Ali; one of the many visually impaired children at BMIS; Mitu and Asiya writing and reading Braille.
Fourteen-year-old Asiya is studying in Grade nine at the Baptist Mission Integrated School (BMIS). Just like all other teenagers, Asiya likes to listen to music and chat with her friends after school hours. Since she lives in a boarding school, her teachers do get a little picky when she does not do her homework. However, she still finds her disciplined life and the open fields at her school better than when she goes back home to Faridpur during vacations. The only difference between Asiya and other girls her age is that she has been visually impaired since birth and does not view the world the others do. Her parents, now dead, had been first cousins, who gave birth to five daughters, three being born with visual impairments.
Located in Mirpur, the Baptist Mission Integrated School, the only school for visually challenged girls in the country, is a boarding school and runs on foreign and national aid.
“This school will be an integrated school from Standard six starting from the next academic year,” says Manju Samaddar, the principal of this school. “Though globally it is encouraged to have an integrated education system right from the beginning, it is not possible to do so in Bangladesh.”
Owing to social ignorance, lack of awareness on the part of parents and also the required technical support for visually impaired children, these children fall behind in their education, sometimes not getting any at all.
Amongst many of the international organisations that help support institutions like BMIS, Handicap International works in the field of disability and communities involving physically, visually and mentally challenged people. Starting out in 1997 in Bangladesh, Handicap International started working in partnership with the Centre for Disability in Development (CDD). In Bangladesh, Handicap International works towards prevention and early detection of the from disabilities community to the national level, supporting challenged people with items like walking sticks and hearing aids, promoting social awareness amongst the general people and disaster management. Handicap International works in many remote areas in Bangladesh, namely, the char areas of Sirajganj, Gaibandha and many more.
In Dhaka, Handicap's major works lie in the remote areas of Mirpur and Lalbagh. For the past few months, the organisation has been holding workshops and training sessions for the many communities in these areas. “There were several programmes in the areas which were being piloted in our area,” says Ansaruzzaman, a Mirpur businessman, who leads the many sessions and workshops that are organised in the area by Handicap. “The Ward Commissioner of No.13 in our area was looking for someone educated, experienced and also someone who could interact with the locals. That's when he requested me to supervise the programmes.” According to Ansaruzzaman, a committee has been formed in the area, which made a list of all the physically, visually and mentally challenged locals in the area.
“Trainers from Handicap held programmes and workshops where, not only the challenged residents but also the other locals, were taught how to take rapid action during natural disasters, for instance earthquakes and fires.” Ansaruzzaman further adds that according to international surveys, Tehran and Dhaka have been found to be the two cities in the world, which are very prone to earthquakes. “None of us will know what to do during a sudden shake,” he says, “let alone people with disabilities.”
Along with the workshops and awareness sessions conducted by Handicap, various international experts have gone to these areas and provided the challenged people with wheelchairs, white walking sticks, hearing aids and much more necessary equipment. “The first thing do during an earthquake is not to panic,” says Mitu of Class 8, yet another visually impaired student of BMIS. “We should try to get out of the building and search for an open space. If necessary, we should take shelter under the bed or a writing desk. We have also been taught about mobility and how to respond when we sense danger around us.” Mitu, like many of her friends at the school, walks with the special folding white walking sticks provided by Handicap International.
A group of visually impaired students taking some time out from their studies at BMIS
In Lalbagh, physically challenged people seem to outnumber challenged people in other areas. Haji Altaf Hossain, the Ward Commissioner of No. 61, says that these challenged people get an amount of Tk 200 as allowance from the government every month. “Lately however, there have been complaints of these people being turned away from the banks,” he says. “Handicap has provided the physically challenged people in our area with walking sticks, wheelchairs and other items to help them move around. Even then, it gets very difficult for the challenged locals to move around, since the buildings are not accessible to them. Banks, for instance, do not have ramps for the wheelchairs to move.
| Manju Samaddar
The physically challenged people make a great effort to go all the way to the banks, just to get turned down and asked to come later on. To make things worse, they are not given a fixed date either. We have been receiving similar complaints regarding the Sonali Bank in Lalbagh, where these physically challenged people have been turned away several times. They have a right to a monthly allowance, but the authorities seem to consider this an extra burden.”
For Mir Syed Ali, life could not have been crueler. A road accident 5 years ago had left him completely disabled and mentally unstable for a few months. “Initially, he was left unattended at the hospital for at least 24 hours and was also given the wrong medication,” says his brother. “It is only when we took him to India for treatment that the doctors told us that the operation that was done in Bangladesh had been absolutely unnecessary and had in fact worsened his condition. They told us that there was a high chance of him not surviving.” However, with continuous efforts from his brother, mother and other family members for 5 long years, Ali can now sit up, move his arms and
communicate with others. “There was a time when I used to travel occasionally to Delhi, Agra and Jaipur,” says Ali who was a small time businessman. “Now I can't leave this bed without help.”
In spite of being almost bedridden, Ali moves around a little and attends the workshops and seminars held by Handicap International in his area. With the help of a wheelchair provided by the organisation, Ali attends the seminars with his brother.
According to Md. Humayun Kabir, the commissioner of ward no. 59 in Lalbagh, because of Handicap's continuous efforts, the Lalbagh locals are more socially aware and conscious regarding the issue of disability. “There are many physically challenged people here who were always referred to as the kana (blind) or the lengra (lame),” he says. “But that has changed now. Though it's still a very slow process, the locals here are more conscious and sensitive to their neighbours who are physically challenged. In many cases, the locals also go out of their way to help the challenged people in the community.”
Mohd. Parvez is in his mid-forties and is visually impaired. He had suffered a bad case of Typhoid when he was only six months old, which had snatched his eyesight away. Ever since then, he has been depending on his family members to move around. At the moment, he lives with his sister and aunt. Parvez is a very cheerful person and is well liked in his locality. In one of the close-knit communities of Lalbagh, his neighbours
Mohd. Ismail Hossain Siraji
sometimes turn to him for advice or even to chat and spend quality time. Unfortunately, because of his visual impairment, he was never sent to school as a child and did not receive any kind of education later on. “I make it a point to attend the workshops and seminars that Handicap organises here in Lalbagh,” he says. “Not only me, but my neighbours and friends in the locality have learnt a lot from these sessions. The most important part of the seminar is probably the part about disaster management.”
Mohd. Ismail Hossain Siraji is the principal of the Intermediate Level Madrasa in Lalbagh and is actively involved in the development of the physically challenged people in the locality. “The ones who are most affected during an earthquake are old people and children,” he says. “In these workshops, many of us have been trained to build makeshift shelters and look out for the affected people. Similarly, physically challenged people are also in danger of losing their way or simply suffering in silence due to their inability to move out of the way of danger as fast as possible. The workshops and training programmes organised by Handicap has taught us to help ourselves and others around us. I am also planning to have several of these orientation programmes and workshops in my school in the future.”
Disability is not a curse, but merely a difficulty which physically challenged people try to overcome. Handicap International Bangladesh creates the opportunities for these people to win over these obstacles and bring together communities all over Bangladesh.
Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2007