Cheshire Homes has made a qualitative change in the lives of disabled
Post-tsunami, the small fishing village of Kadalur Periakkuppam, 75-odd km south of Chennai, is unrecognisable. Where huts once stood, you see pucca houses with toilets and a patch of garden.
All this didn’t make much difference to 14-year-old Preetha who has cerebral palsy (CP), till an outreach worker from Cheshire Homes (CH), Chennai got to know of her. Now, Preetha is wheeled out on a ramp to visit the doctor and enjoy fresh air. She gets regular physiotherapy and medicines to control her bouts of fits. She sits up, speaks a little.
Not far, Jeeva 7, hearing-impaired, and his brother Shaktivel, 3, who has CP, benefit from this initiative. The Cheshireman in these parts organised a check-up in Chennai, followed it up with physiotherapy, exercises and vitamin tablets. “Shaktivel now sits up and is trying to speak. I want him to walk,” says his mom, even as Jeeva displays his hearing-aid.
“Through the Community Based Outreach Programme, our field rehab workers deal with children with disabilities at source, assessing their disability, correcting it where necessary and, most of all, putting the child into school — as well as the siblings who are sometimes neglected because of the demands of the disabled child,” says Maureen-Hudson Murari, the force behind the programme.
“We also work with teachers (and the community in awareness meetings) on how to deal with the disabled child in class. Teachers are helped to reach the child. Parents are taught how to work with the child. The good thing is that the awareness is working and we are reaching over 1,000 children with disabilities in the Thirupporur Block/Kancheepuram District and the ECR down to Marakanam.”
It’s a comprehensive programme. A kid in a wheelchair doesn’t go far unless the school has ramps to receive him. His education isn’t complete unless his classmates accept him. Field workers such as Veeravail and Ganeshan labour to plug these gaps. The Infant Jesus School at Kalpakkam CH has constructed ramps. “Once they know the tricycle can be wheeled in, parents are willing to send their kids to school,” says the headmaster. Ganesan runs a Children’s Club in a government primary school to promote integration and acceptance.
Adults with disabilities, too, come into their ambit. At Sadras, S. Kandan, who has difficulty walking, has been given materials for his bicycle repair shop. “This is our income-generating programme (IGP),” says Veravail. “We got him tools through ICDS.” Ganesan is trying to get him a bank loan for expansion. “The electric sewing machine from CH isn’t just income,” says Shanthi, fingers flying over her embroidery work. “It is self-esteem and confidence to support ourselves. With the pair of modified chappals CH gave me, I’m able to move around in comfort, take my kid to school.”
The Sangam at Thirupporur is a major effort at spreading awareness about disability rights. Here, disabled adults meet to discuss problems, policies and progressive action. “The guy from CH knows our problems,” says spokesman Purushottam. “Scores of us have received help to start businesses. We have had rallies, met officials to apprise them of our needs.” Field workers go door-to-door to identify kids/adults with disabilities. They design individual plans that include check-ups, medicines, doctor’s visits, therapy sessions and IGPs. They liaise with the government for ID cards and assisting devices such as Braille watches. This is rounded off with parental training, ramp building and admission to schools.
“There’s marked improvement in the kids,” says a beaming Ganesan. “Till we started work, people didn’t know about aids to kids. Now they send them to school. That is attitudinal change.”GEETA PADMANABHAN