Personalised care means that children are given a good start in life (photo: SOS archives).
According to UNICEF, there are around 150 million children with disabilities in the world. The number in developing countries is higher than in developed ones. Although there is a lack of reliable data regarding the number of Indian children with disabilities, some estimates suggest that approximately six to ten per cent of children in India are born with a disability.
Many of these disabilities are preventable if mothers are provided with better prenatal and postnatal medical care, given advice on nutrition and have access to food and safe drinking water. However, early intervention measures are not always available, especially to those living in poverty. Adolescents and young people are at risk of acquiring disabilities due to work-related injuries or risk-taking behaviour. Children with disabilities are vulnerable to exploitation, trafficking or abuse.
In spite of the growing disability rights movement, people with disabilities in India continue to be socially stigmatised. They are more likely to be illiterate and have fewer employment opportunities than the general population.
Sadly, families with a child with disabilities often see him or her as a burden, and this leads to an increased social marginalisation of the child, who is not given the opportunity to live a dignified life. A significant proportion of children with disabilities do not attend school. The rate among children with particular disabilities is extremely high, for example more than 60 per cent of six-to-thirteen-year-olds with multiple disabilities and almost half of those with mental disabilities in the same age group do not attend school. There is limited aid for families to send their child with disabilities to school. Furthermore, schools are not always adapted to the needs of children with disabilities and there are limited technological aids to help them with their learning.
SOS Children's Villages India had been asked many times to start a project for children with disabilities. There was a shortage of organisations which supported children with mental or physical disabilities, so we designed a special programme. The government of the state of Madhya Pradesh provided a piece of land, which is about 40 km from the town of Bhopal.
The SOS mothers at SOS Children's Village Khajuri are especially trained to care for children with disabilities (photo: SOS archives).
Our work in Khajuri Kalan is particularly designed to provide loving homes, medical care, education and training to children and young people with disabilities. There are 14 family homes which have been specially adapted for the children. For example, the SOS mother's bedroom is big enough to sleep one or two infants if they require round-the-clock care. All rooms, but especially the bathrooms, have been designed for children in wheelchairs or with walking aids. In addition, each SOS mother has a family helper who is trained to look after children with disabilities.
Some children attend the local schools while others go to the SOS Hermann Gmeiner primary school. As well as benefiting from a special educational programme, the children who need it have access to physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, and speech therapy at the medical centre.
As the children get older, our organisation also provides vocational training in craftsmanship and agricultural production and processing. Among other things, the young adults have achieved successful harvests of wheat, soybeans and other vegetables. Young people can move into the special youth programme which can accommodate up to 50 young adults; they are provided with professional support while they attend further education, start a vocational training course or work.