SHAFQAT SCHOOL: Kashmir’s special home for specially-abled kids

Irfan Rashid

Srinagar:

Aaqib (name changed) was lucky to survive deadly tendency of his father thanks to his maternal uncle who saved him in nick of time. One day his father asked his brother-in-law to help him throw his 5-year-old kid Aaqib under a fast running vehicle.
Aaqib was physically and mentally disabled. It was decided that Aaqib will be admitted in a special school at Bemina, ‘Shafqat’. It has been three years now and he is growing up as a ‘normal child now.’
This special school for mentally challenged and multiple disabilities is run by Voluntary Medicare Society (VMS) of J&K. VMS was established in year 1970 though the foundation stone of the school was laid on 7th November 1995 by Dr .Mohammad Maqbool and practically the school operated only since 2000.
The VMS is a medico-social organization dedicated to the care, treatment and rehabilitation of poor, disabled and mentally challenged persons. Initially, the society visited far-flung areas of the valley and treated hundreds of ailing patients. Specialist care and treatment was provided at their doorsteps and those needing hospitalization or surgery were brought to SMHS.
There are about 70 million people with disabilities in India, one of three in them are children and only less than 1 per cent have access to education. In Kashmir there are no statistics available in this regard.
As there was no special school for mentally challenged and disabled children in the valley, ‘Shafqat’ began admitting children in the school after proper assessment of type and degree of disability.
Shafqat’ has a total enrolment of 70. At present nearly 66 special children, including 20 girls, are enrolled in the school. They come from different localities of the city. Every morning at 8 am, school buses ferry these children and drop them back after 4 in the evening.
“It is very hard to motivate parents to send their girl child here. Parents think if their children come here, what society will think about their children particularly girls,” said Dr Bashir Ahmad Lone, administrator of the school.
For children outside the city, ‘Shafqat’ organizes camps, gives home programmes and treats them in their out-patient department also throughout the year.
Since year 2000, nearly 300 children have been admitted in ‘Shafqat’ and nearly 3000 have been treated in OPD, said Dr Lone.
As per the Disability Act 1955, education is a basic right of children. After struggling for five years to get registration for formal school education, ‘Shafqat’ achieved it in 2012 under the banner inclusive school where formal education from class first to 5th is imparted. Presently, 19 students are enrolled here, including seven girls.
The admission to this school is given after taking into consideration the level of disability.
Dr Lone divides these levels into four types. “Mild, moderate, severe and profound disabilities where we allow only mild disabled to get formal education.
Till date, nearly 100 students have been discharged successfully from this formal school and are now getting education in normal schools.
Presently, 43 professionals, that include 20 special educators, are working in the school.
Talking to Rising Kashmir, Dr Lone said: “Firstly early intervention is to be focused otherwise conditions may lead to permanent disability. Role of parents is important. They need to think beyond the society myths to save their children.”
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