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Adapting to the Needs of Differently Abled

Efforts are underway to ensure child friendly water supply, toilet and hand washing facilities in schools for orthopaedically challenged and promote behavioral change through hygiene education through the School Sanitation and Hygiene Education

By Aditya Malaviya

PATNA, India, 24 July, 2009 -
Rolling in the grass. Playing board games. Jumping on a pile of sand. Playing ringball… all yield the unbridled laughter and carefree energy of a child playing. From a child’s perspective play is a fun, enjoyable activity. Underneath, however, this play has more to it than meets the eye.

Through play, children receive stimulation on numerous levels – social, physical, emotional and cognitive. Play is, thus, a key factor for learning and development in children of all ages, especially those who are differently-abled.

Being wheelchair bound severely limits where you can go and what you can do. Homes, buses, trains, shops, schools and just about anywhere else continue to be largely inaccessible to children who cannot ascend or descend stairs.

But being differently-abled doesn't just mean people in a wheelchair. It also includes everyone who is suffering from a disease that doesn't allow the person to do normal everyday things that you and I can do.

Promoting behavioral change through hygiene education

Efforts are underway to ensure child friendly water supply, toilet and hand washing facilities in schools and promote behavioral change through hygiene education through the School Sanitation and Hygiene Education (SSHE).

SSHE is a comprehensive programme that not only ensures that children have a healthy and clean environment but also leads to effective learning and helps in enrollment, particularly girls. The summer camp run from June 1-30th, at Vaishali, and from July 4th to August 3rd, at Aarah, by Bihar Educational Project Council (BEPC) for orthopaedically challenged children cares for all kinds, from the rambunctious to the introvert who’s never been to school. For each child, play is an essential part of the day, especially since children are key facilitators in passing hygiene/sanitation messages to other children and family members.

This is integral to promoting behavioral change through hygiene education. Says 13-year old Durgesh Kumar, a student of class 7th in Government Middle School (GMS) Nayaganj Mahnar in district Vaishali: “I always used to wash hands after toilet with mud, not ash or soap. Now I realise how wrong I was. But the biggest boon has been the ramp and retro-fitting of toilets in my school with conveniently-placed grab-rails, which allow us to use toilets with much greater ease”. Mukesh Rai, (14), studies in GMS, village Kakarhatta in block Bidupur.

“We do not have a toilet at home, though my school does. But because I am physically challenged, I find it very difficult to climb the stairs to the toilet since there are no hand railings.” A total of 49 such summer camps have been held so far in the state, involving 2254 children who are being given inputs on hygiene education. SSHE has initiated retro-fitting of toilets in 30 districts across Bihar, whether it is putting up grab rails (to push or pull against when standing up, or to provide a steadying support while sitting down), banisters/handrails for ease of standing or walking, or ramps that address the needs of a wheelchair, walker, or crutch-user.

Santosh Kumar Mishra, Rehabilitation Professional (Mental Retardation), Vaishali, says “Currently, special thrust is given by following the proven teacher-children-family-community route, where the child is seen as a change-agent in spreading the message of improved sanitary and healthy practices. Of course, special emphasis is given to toilets for girls”.

Changing Times: Now schools adapting to the needs of children

Says Naseem, Resource Teacher in Physiotherapy at Aarah: “Success to us means physically challenged children are seen in schools; earlier, children had to adapt to the school, but now schools are adapting to their needs.” Shatrughan Sinha, Resource Teacher for the Hearing Impaired, says “Availability of toilets especially designed for the differently-abled, convenient hand washing facilities and safe drinking water go a long way in restoring the self esteem and confidence of these children.

The most visible aspect of this is the increasing number of differently-abled children who can be seen in normal schools”. Says Dr Tej Bahadur Singh, District Coordinator, District Inclusive Education, BEPC, Aarah: “Through these camps, key health and hygiene information and behaviour flow to their home, and we have noticed that most parents are very happy to accept these.”

Shiv Kumar, (14), is a student of class 4 in GMS Varap village (Aarah): “Retro-fitting of toilets has given us our dignity back, particularly for girl students. As the Prime Minister of the school Bal Sansad (Child Parliament), I constantly tell my other ‘Ministers’ to talk about importance of sanitation and hygiene in our homes & schools.”

District Magistrate, Aarah, Dr (Ms) Safina A N, says “We would like to work closely with UNICEF to support more SSHE-oriented camps in the district for differently-abled children. The addition of vocational skills in the camp curriculum will further help these children be economically self reliant in the future”.

“The provision of safe water and sanitation facilities in schools is not enough. It is the use of toilets and related hygiene behaviour that is important. In schools, SSHE aims to promote practices that help prevent water and sanitation-related diseases, as well as encourage healthy behaviour,” says SN Singh, WES Specialist with UNICEF, Bihar.

Programmes like SSHE contribute significantly to mainstreaming sanitation and improved hygiene practices for the differently-abled children. Watching 14-year old Sunita learn to use her new hearing aid, one is left with a sense of hope and encouragement that these children will lead creative and meaningful lives in supportive environments. Communications Specialist UNICEF Office for Bihar.

 

 

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