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Inclusive values begin at schools

Seen here are students of Jo’s Foundation, an inclusive school which started in 2009. (This image is published with permission from the Foundation)

“In order to create an inclusive society, inclusive schools are a must,” says Purnima Kayina, headmistress of Cherry Blossoms School who asserts that in mainland India differently-abled children who grew up in specific special schools are not able to integrate well into society. “In the classroom and playground, they are all equals. When they are treated equally their confidence level also comes up. They have to fight and do their homework like the rest of the children.” Purnima further adds.

“For the society to accept them, it has to start from the school first. The kids they meet will be their peers tomorrow,” says Neikule Mero whose daughter was diagnosed with autism (corneal opacity) when she was 3 years old. It was in 2007 when Mero and nine other members formed Enable, a registered NGO to create awareness programs, conduct research on disability and focus on inclusive schools. The formation of Enable spearheaded and amplified the initiatives for inclusive schools.

“When differently-abled children are included, children are able to understand and develop empathy at a very young age.” says Daniel Thong, founder of Jo’s Foundation. Daniel Thong and Dr. Asiinii’s eldest son Tejopi has autism. Subsequently after his diagnosis, they started Jo’s Foundation in 2009 which is an inclusive school that has 33 students including 7 with special needs.

According to the 2001 census, Nagaland has a total population of 26,499 differently-abled people including:  9,968 persons with visual needs, 4,398 with speech impairments 5,245, with hearing needs, 4,258 with locomotor-needs and, 2,630 with mental challenges. In an April 4, 2013, report by The Indian Express stated that Nagaland is one among the six states whose school enrollment of girls with various disabilities has been under 40%.

Joyance Pre-School which opened in 2003 is perhaps one of the first inclusive schools in Kohima. Chanda Sahi, founder of Joyance says, “When we started, kids with special needs came. Most schools were not willing to take them. Since we did not have trained teachers, all we told them was that we can only give them love and compassion. But we found out that the kids blossomed, did quite well and were ready for formal schooling.”

Bumblebee Inclusive Pre School is another institution that specializes in providing individualized educational plans to cater to the particular needs of each child. Here, each child’s needs and skills are identified and assessed through listening, receptiveness and working skills. Kopele Mero, founder of Bumblebee Centre for Phonics and Remedial Center says, “We want to see the government helping out in the area of disability.”

Differently-abled kids face numerous challenges in Nagaland, some of which includes:
•    The lack of societal awareness and the stigma which is attached to disability
•    Limited access for adequate diagnosis and assessment. Most parents take their children outside Nagaland for diagnosis and assessment.
•    Limited qualified practicing speech therapists and occupational therapists
•    Limited number of physiotherapists who are willing to work with children with disabilities
•    The need for multiple types of treatments. Children with disabilities need different types of treatment; for example, the treatment for Down syndrome is different from treating autism, hearing loss, etc.
•    The increasing need for trained teachers     
•    Lack of awareness by the media and medical organizations
•    The need for sensitization among government officials
•    Public support - Giving them assurance that they are not alone

It is very touching to see the children’s generous attitude towards disability according to Chandi Sahi who further adds, “Children are very accepting, it’s the adults who puts bad thoughts in their minds. We are all born with good nature. It’s the society that spoils us.”

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