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Because they are special

  • Published at 04:28 pm December 3rd, 2016
  • Last updated at 04:53 pm December 3rd, 2016
Because they are special

Do you remember the mischievous yet innocent Fotik in Robindranath Tagore's short story Chuti? The essence of the protagonist spirit inspires Zannatul Ferdous, a 12-year-old girl who suffers from cerebral palsy. Despite having to constantly struggle to carry out any physical movement on her own, as well as having intellectual challenges, she dreams of being a doctor one day. In pursuit of that goal Zannatul, with the assistance of her family, enrolled in a program by the Society for Education and Inclusion of the Disabled (SEID) in 2011. There, she attained special and pre-primary education and in 2016, Zannatul took one more step towards her dream by enrolling into the the 'regular' primary school Jamila Ayeenul Ananda Uccho Biddalay.

There are 63 other students like Zannatul who have managed to get into classes 1 to 4 at different schools in Dhaka after attending the School Readiness Program, which prepares them for integrating into the mainstream education system. One of the pioneering organisations in this sector in Bangladesh, SEID is being supported by HSBC in execution of this program.

How we do business is as important as what we do. Every year, thousands of HSBC employees around the world give their time and skills to local projects. We are delighted to build long standing commitments by partnering with SEID to support their 'Inclusion through Removing Barriers of Children with Disabilities' program, which is making a difference to these disadvantaged children and their families,” Francois de Maricourt, chief executive officer of HSBC Bangladesh said.

With the vision of achieving social inclusion of children/persons with disability especially autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and intellectual disability as well as multiple disabilities, SEID provides pre-school and special education to prepare these students for further education in mainstream schools. SEID, a 13-year old organisation, not only strive to prepare these children for the future through therapeutic interventions, but it also provides them with study materials, food, transport, sports and cultural activities. “The primary concern of SEID is to work only with underprivileged children in order to establish their position in the society,” said Dilara Satter Mitu, executive director of SEID.

The goal is certainly lofty and the task has been correspondingly daunting. Initially, most of the mainstream schools refused to admit children with disability. Along with many others, school authorities' major concern was a lack of infrastructure and system for accommodating children with special needs. Jewel Hasan, the headmaster of Alif Ideal Public School, said, “There is a strong social stigma fuelled by many misconceptions about disability. Often persons with disabilities are judged based on our age-old understanding that they are incapable of carrying out daily activities and work alongside ‘normal’ people.”

Sessions have been conducted in numerous schools over the years by SEID to raise awareness and create better understanding about special needs students. A K M Badrul Huq and Asif Bin Islam, program coordinators, said that promoting social inclusion and sustainable development of underprivileged children with disability through enrolment in mainstream schools have been difficult but very successful. With the prime objectives of raising awareness and creating understanding among school authorities, teachers, parents and community people, the sessions are a platform that facilitate making school and social environments disabled friendly and improving the relation between students with disabilities and teacher and students without disabilities. The result has been quite gratifying as the coordinators note: “The school environment is now much friendlier than before. There are instances where schools have moved its classroom from first floor to ground floor to assist special needs students.”

After admitting the students into mainstream schools, field facilitators from SEID pay regular visits to find out if the students are fitting in with the new environment.

Shobnam Akhter, now a student of Gov't Ideal Primary School, is very satisfied with her new school, friends and teachers. The cerebral palsy affected student says, “I love going to school and teachers and classmates are always helping. My best friend Rani never left me alone, even during the tiffin breaks. During break we chat, play, draw and read stories from text books.”  

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Jewel Hasan, headmaster of the Alif Ideal Public School also says, “We are trying to provide facilities to the best of our ability. A common instruction being followed is encouraging these children to sit on the first bench so that teachers can lend them more attention and students can ask if they are unable to understand anything.”

However, instances of dropping out do exist when students cannot cope with these challenges, and social stigma also plays a role. Reshma was accepted into a mainstream school in the third grade but came back to SEID. The organisation wishes to continue its efforts to prepare children for mainstream schools, but when a student's mental and physical conditions make this impossible, SEID trains them for vocational skills so that they can learn to support themselves.

Shobnom, Jannatul, Tania, Ruhi and 59 more children have reached a milestone with their achievements and proved that a program like this is indispensable.

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