Fullit Kokkhar walks into the Blessings Center to celebrate his birthday with friends. Nothing unusual except that he had registered at the Center as a two year old afflicted with cerebral palsy with double hemiplegia. Regular interaction and caring by Blessings staff with Fullit and his parents gave him the confidence to enter mainstream schooling at Bluebells School in April 2002.
Deepak underwent training in Photocopying at the Blessings Vocational training center. Today, he is drawing a stipend of Rs.500 as an Office assistant at Balloons, a garment export organization. This has changed his live so much so that Deepak commutes alone from Gurgaon to Delhi in a public transport.
These are success stories mapped out by Khushboo Welfare Society under its ongoing project Blessings and Blessings Vocational Center. Khushboo or KWS is the joint effort of a group of sensitive citizens, professionals and parents who got together to set up a specialized service for persons with mental and multiple disabilities. The first Center, Blessings, was inaugurated on December 3, 1995 at Gurgoan, which, despite its close proximity to Delhi did not have any such facility. As Sonali Savakoor, Chairperson of the Society says it was a beginning of a dream based on the three important Cs- Concern-Care-Compassion. Things started falling into place - premises, staff, transport and equipment motivating us to work hard for achieving our goals.
A non-profit organization, KWS is registered under the Societies' Registration Act at Chandigarh as well as the Persons with Disabilities (PWD, 1995) Act. The projects run mainly with funds raised by the Society from community donations and contributions from corporations. Money is also generated through selling of cards, diyas, and paper bags to corporate houses and individuals which include Carrier Aircon Gurgaon and Trac Fujico Air Systems Bangalore, to name a few.
The Academic Division of the center deals with functional assessment and IQ testing, special education, occupational and related therapies; early identification, detection and other specialized services for children from 0 to 6 years of age; medical checkups, counseling and guidance to families of PWDs. This is one of the most important aspects as parents and siblings have to work together to integrate the gifted children into mainstream society. The Center has counseled 28 families and has done functional assessment for their children. In its ongoing program of providing quality of life through recreational, educational vocational and spiritual activities, a relationship is maintained with families receiving counseling and occupational therapy.
The Vocational Training Division provides training in photocopying, block printing, dal (lentil) packing, tea and coffee dispenser operating and candle making. Placement on the job training is provided to trainees over 18 years. Last year a kitchen unit was begun on twice a week basis to enhance the functional and independent daily living skills. Menu planning is done at the start of the month and trainees are involved in purchasing of required vegetables and groceries. Sometimes we do experience resistance from parents, specially in the case of boys, as it is socially unacceptable to have boys participating in learning household chores. The spokesperson adds that continual interaction with parents has helped in changing their views.
It was a proud day for the Blessings Family when the Vocational Center won a consolation prize for their stall at one of the Diwali melas. The stall put up products such as candles, painted diyas and block printed products.
At present the Society is working from two rented premises and the space is a constraint. The rooms are used for providing special education, speech therapy, physio and occupational therapy, Functional assessments, Medical checks ups and follow ons and recreational activities for children from age group 5 to 12 years. The pre-vocational and vocational training opportunities to PWDs in the age group of 12 years and above is also held and specialized services are offered on an individual basis with special focus on parental training.
KWS needs its own premises considering the growing number of persons needing their help. From 10 we now have 125 and we hope to reach out to more people, to expand our vocational training activities so as to improve the possibilities of mainstream employment for our trainees. As a spokesperson for the Society says, the OPD room can accommodate two people at a time along with a Specialist. Also some of the rooms have poor ventilation and narrow doors, inconvenient toilets and limited outdoor space. Most important there is always the fear of being asked to vacate.
Another red letter day for the Society was November 21, 2001 when the Vocational trainees were paid honorarium from the product sales at various stalls put up during the festive season.
Not resting on its laurels, KWS has carried on. Professionals from a local eye care center were trained to identify children with disabilities in the age group of 0 to 6. Professional consultancy was provided to Ashray Center for children of disabilities of the National Security Guards, Manesar and manpower was facilitated for DISHAs (an organization for differently abled) outlet in Gurgaon. National organizers of Disability Walk entrusted KWS to coordinate the event in Haryana and on World Disability Day (December 3, 2001). KWS led a rally to make the parks and public buildings fully accessible for persons with disabilities and this connected with the national movement on inclusion of disability related item in the census of 2001. As part of its program to work with other like minded organizations KWS was registered as the Information Center under the aegis of the newly constituted National Trust Act for Welfare of persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.
Workshops by specialists and professionals for parents as well as staff are organized on a continuing basis. One such was a workshop on legal rights of PWDs by lawyer Suruchi Agarwal. Many parents are not aware that PWDs are entitled to discounted fares in state transports and railways or that they can demand special privileges for their wards". Leading Ophthalmologist Dr. Roy had also conducted a workshop on medical and functional visual problems amongst children with multiple disabilities. Besides this the KSW staff is sent for regular training in various aspects and issues related with disabilities and rehabilitation.
KWS looks towards people to lend a helping hand to inspire belief and confidence in people with disabilities, provide them with job opportunities or sponsor aids programs. It has taken the Society six long years of happiness, praises, criticism, success and failures to reach this position. With limited resources the team at KWS have been able to make a difference to the lives of 125 persons. It has been a long struggle of hardships and difficulties to procure the infrastructure and amenities in all areas. They dream to reach out to a larger group and work towards building a disabled friendly society through integration and rehabilitation of Persons with Mental and Multiple Disabilities and advocacy of their legal rights.