A therapeutic centre in Ghaziabad for persons with disabilities aims to make students independent

How do you turn a disadvantage into an advantage? For millions of differently-abled the answer to this question will determine whether they can lead their lives with independence and dignity or continue the daily struggle.

A new residential centre started by non-government organisation Ability Unlimited Foundation aims to help 150 differently-abled children find their answers through therapeutic education. The organisation’s founder, Guru Syed Sallauddin Pasha, says, “We use the wheelchair as a symbol of ability, not disability.”

The foundation has spent three decades empowering differently-abled children and young adults through music, dance and drama. Pasha, a trained Kathak and Bharatnatyam dancer, says his organisation has mounted over 100 productions all over the world with its differently-abled dancers, actors and even lighting and set designers. With whirling dervishes on wheel-chairs and hearing-impaired Bharatnatyam dancers, the productions are unique and highly memorable.

The therapeutic education centre, located at village Muhiddinpur Dabarsi in Uttar pradesh’s Ghaziabad district, is taking the foundation’s work to another level. At the holistic centre, differently-abled children from 3 to 17 years old will be given training in music, dance and drama. Apart from arts and culture training, they will also have therapeutic sessions such as speech therapy, touch therapy and music therapy. The centre, which is 26 km from Delhi, is expected to be functional within a month.

Pasha says, “We use dance and music as a therapy. In the formal education system, there is ‘2+2=4’ written on the board and that’s it. But here (at the centre), we use artistic expression to bring out their (differently-abled students) inbuilt indomitable spirit.”

He says the students will start their days with yoga in the morning and then attend classes in various disciplines. The centre has its own organic farm where the students can participate in growing their favourite vegetables. Though the centre is located in a rural area with scant power supply, it is completely self-sufficient with round-the-clock solar-powered electricity.

Pasha, a National Award-winner for empowering persons with disabilities, says, “The centre was a life-long dream for me. We have made it completely self-sustainable.” He says that a majority of differently-abled people live in villages but there is no support structure for them to rely on. He says there are on an average 20 organisations that work with the differently-abled in metropolitan cities but none in rural areas.

“There is no one to take care of them. There is no concept of disabled-friendly in villages. That is why we have taken this therapeutic education system with vocational training to Dabarsi,” he says.

Dr. Manjula V. Krippendorf, a neurological disorder specialist and Associate, International Health, Johns Hopkins University, says, “Unless a teacher makes contact with a child at every level – intellectual, emotional and deeper – you can’t really get a performance out of the child.”

Dr. Krippendorf has been a consultant with Ability Unlimited for years and her daughter who suffers from cerebral palsy has been Pasha’s student for a decade. Dr. Krippendorf has studied the foundation’s work closely and says her daughter’s association with it has been a “completely cathartic experience”.

She says, “They (Ability Unlimited) work on a one-to-one basis. They have a pretty individualised plan of how to use music, dance and remedial drama.”

The education centre will offer short-tern (one and two-year) courses in dance, music, drama and painting. Formal education subjects such as English, Hindi and Social Sciences will be taught in an interactive manner with dance and music. Mathematics will be taught through dance and sign language. Apart from classes, students will have access to a sensory park and interactive sessions with professional artistes.

Dr. Krippendorf says, “The Ministry of Social Welfare has identified that there is no proper vocational training certification course, especially for intellectually-challenged adults, including those who suffer from autism, multiple handicaps and cerebral palsy. So, to find jobs for them becomes terribly difficult.”

She has collaborated with Pasha and come up with a certification programme. She says, “We have sent a proposal to the Ministry already and we are very hopeful that it will come through.”

Till then, however, Ability Unlimited will continue to provide therapeutic education to its students. The foundation is turning these young people into professional artistes with regular salaries and job placements. For these students, their abilities are now overshadowing their handicaps.

More In: Delhi