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AWF: The talent within

With an aim to serve children suffering from autism and bring their problems to the fore, AWF (Autism Welfare Foundation) once more took an initiative. By holding an Eid fair, AWF really, managed to bring to light, not the problems, but rather the talents of these special children.

From the entrance, it was clear that this was to be a lively affair. Stalls were placed on corners where lots of different hand-made objects were being sold. There were lovely cards, decorations, clothes and paintings. The surprising thing was that, the children whom society has shunned made these beautiful creations.

There were also books and posters which were actually teaching aides for teachers and could also be used by parents to teach their children the alphabets or processes such as washing one's hands or going to the toilet. The illustrations were quite attractive and the books are actually quite useful. And if anyone thought these wonderful children were lacking talent or did not have the ability to live normal lives, their artwork would surely put such people to shame.

To drive away any doubt as to whether the children really created the handicrafts, a TV was set up where the children were shown to be working on their objects. The children themselves handed selected objects to the customers and it was evident that they were overjoyed every time they made a sale.

The whole place was bustling with excitement and the environment was also extremely friendly. We had the pleasure of being accompanied by Farhana Hossain, a teacher at the AWF, who guided us throughout the fair. She showed us the things on display and also highlighted that these children were almost as capable as some of us and in fact they were also better than most of us in some aspects.

She informed us that the AWF started off in 2004 with about 8 teachers and 21 students and now the number of students has crossed 140.

She also took some time out and talked to us about the problems that are still persistent when it comes to people's understanding of autism. 'Just because these children are autistic, that doesn't mean that they are backward. They do have the ability to progress in society but all they really need is a little helping hand and a little more understanding.' She also informed us of the plight of the parents of such children and gave us an example of society's cruel treatment.

'Other schools can easily take children to field trips and trips to certain places but we can't do that. Generally, people don't want our children to go their places for a trip. However, it is important to make sure these children mingle with society and thus we take them on shopping trips.' 'However, we have to inform the store in advance that we are coming, because some people still see these children as being hassles,' she added.

Dr. Rawnak Hafiz, the chairperson of AWF, also talked to us at length about autism. 'It is certainly not a disease and not something that is incurable. It is a condition which can be made better.' She explained. 'There are many forms of autism and thus many different problems attached to it. Some of the children display repetitive behaviour, some have communication problems etc.'

Upon being asked how one can overcome such a condition she told us that such people had to be included in the society. 'They need to be made a part of society. These children are extremely receptive and they know they are different and they know when they are not wanted. They need to feel included. 50% of the children, who received training and teaching up till the age of 5, have gone on to mainstream English medium schools. It is not something impossible,' she said.

She also added that these children were prone to depression due to our society's backward ideas and when asked if these children can have a place in society, she gave the example of 7-year old Aryan, who though said to be autistic, has yet managed to create brilliant art works. 'My only plea to the government is that they give us space or a building to carry out our work in a wider scale. We don't know how long we can sustain ourselves without a larger operation. The government can help in this sector and thus help us spread our message to a wider range of people,' she concluded.

Finally, before leaving we had the opportunity to meet Dr. Sharmin Yasmin, whose child studies in the school and who is also a member of the AWF. She highlighted other problems, which her child faces, such as rejection from society and lack of rights to availing certain services.

'My other children can avail recreational facilities but this child can't. Even Bashundhara Gold Gym would not accept my child since they do not have properly trained personnel for such situations. So where do I take my child if he wants to go swimming?' she asked. She also asked society to step forward and try to set up a rehabilitation program, even if it is done without the government's help. 'I need to know the future of my child is secured.' Dr. Sharmin responded when asked what it is that she most wanted.

The whole event really was a revelation. The talent of these children was portrayed brilliantly and possibly everyone left, feeling awed. These children do have the ability to carve a spot for them in this world but once more society, as a whole needs to be a little more responsible, patient and caring. These children, after all, are also our future. They are also citizens of our country and we owe to them as much as we owe to anyone else. It is time that we all begin to become a little more responsible.

Autism Welfare Foundation: House# 38/40, Road# 4, 'Kha' Block, Pisci-culture Housing Society, Mohammedpur, Dhaka- 1207

By Osama Rahman and Shabbir Ahmed

Flee the flu

"Swine influenza (also called swine flu, hog flu, and pig flu) is an infection by any one of several types of swine influenza virus. Swine influenza virus (SIV) is any strain of the influenza family of viruses that is endemic in pigs. As of 2009, the known SIV strains include influenza C and the subtypes of influenza A known as H1N1, H1N2, H3N1, H3N2, and H2N3.” Wikipedia

However, these are all scientific terms. As Dr. Jamalunnesa, senior teacher of the Department of Microbiology, Dhaka University said, “Once you get sick scientific book-knowledge will mean very little, if anything at all. You need to know the proper treatment and prevention measures to defend yourself when the going gets tough.” The seminar arranged on September 3, 2009 by the concerned students and teachers of the department aimed at shedding some light on those very important subjects. The speakers were mainly senior students of the fourth year and the Master's batch with the teachers Dr. Jamalunnesa, Dr. Md. M. Karim, Dr. Marufa Z. Akhter and Dr. Md. Ilias presiding over the seminar. With the recent Swine Flu frenzy rapidly spreading countrywide, the Gallery Hall (seminar venue) of the Department of Microbiology was packed to the brim with a curious audience who found the subject very time-appropriate. The hour-long discussion summarised some interesting points-

1. The Swine Flu virus is a mutated form of the common influenza virus.
2. Respiratory problem is one of the most important symptoms. Other than that there can be cases of extremely high temperature and normal flu symptoms.
3. The usage of masks is not entirely scientifically approved. Experiments reveal the germs' ability to penetrate the body even with the presence of a mask.
4. The best precaution would be to use disposable tissue paper and destroy them properly after discarding.
5. One must cover ones face with hands while sneezing and coughing. But in that case proper hand-washing should follow.
6. The virus can spread even before symptoms show themselves.
7. Best possible diagnosis results are achieved only on the first day of symptom exposure. The human body starts developing antibodies against the virus and thus the test may give absolutely negative results by day ¾, rendering the nature of the disease elusive.
8. Symptoms are hard to pinpoint as well. Only 1 out of 3 people show proper symptoms.
9. The flu comes back twice a year and often disguises itself as the common seasonal flu.
10. If identification and medication can be initiated at an early stage, it is possible to stop the progress within a short time span. Otherwise, the complicacies can turn fatal.

Recently, some of the university halls have received reports of possible swine flu cases. One of the speakers mentioned that in cases like these their roommates and classmates often mistreat the victims, which affects their already agitated mental state to extreme extents. He stressed on the discouragement of such behaviour and introduced a term 'Flu Friend' in favour of the affected. The seminar ended with the teachers answering various questions from the audience.

By Raisa Rafique



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