Special Reports

Overcoming Difficulty with Self-Reliance

A visit to Cholistan Special Education School (CSES) revealed the factual reality of the shift in understanding of disability from a condition of ‘abnormality’ to a case of ‘human diversity’ with equal rights and privileges in our country. No one among us has an adequate or satisfactory definition of normal and everyone’s normal is different. In Pakistan special children are now being taken care of with more concern and attention. Equity-based approach is one of the foundations of the current agenda and the main goals of which are to develop leadership on the rights of special children, building capacity among staff and making these kids self-reliant to cope up with all the hardships in life.


Muhammad Ali Haidri and Manahil are the true role models of such self-reliance. They both are students of Hearing Impaired Department at the school. Listening to Muhammad Ali reading his lesson during speech therapy class could make anyone proud of the conviction and confidence he has in speaking out the words he has never heard. He is not the only example one could find in this school. The beauty lies in the assurance and determination of not only the principal and teaching staff, however, but also in the children who are eager and enthusiastic in learning new ways to explore their abilities.  

 

CSES is one true example of a school run on international standards to provide education to children with special needs. It was established in 1997 by 31 Corps and started functioning on self-help basis in a residential bungalow. In 2002 the present building was constructed and specially designed as per the requirement of special children. The school was registered with the Directorate of Special Education Government of Punjab in May 2003 under the Promotion and Registration Ordinance of 1984 and is running effectively in Bahawalpur Cantonment by Pakistan Army. Today the school has around 200 students from army as well as civilian families. CSES is handling a variety of students having various kinds of impairment/challenges and is not providing solely a syllabus based education. An all-around approach is being followed to train these children so that they can manage their daily routine independently and could develop skills for survival in the society. 


Children of different departments are provided with therapies according to their physical requirement which include: speech, physio, music, vocational and sensory integration therapy. Hearing impaired children are provided with free hearing aids and visually impaired children are sent to different special hospitals around the country for free medical eye check up/treatments.


Qurat-ul-Ain, Aneeqa and Fatima, three beautiful girls busy reading from Braille book, typing on Brailler machine and the third one listening to the lesson and writing on her special notebook, spoke of the efforts that are being made to train them. One of them has recently gone through a retina surgery which has helped her with her vision to some extent. Students of Visual Impaired Department were a sight to watch as they are the exemplar of commitment and dedication. The new technologies and tools being used in the school equip these children to compete with other children in the society in going further ahead in their studies. 


Meeting one of the parents of a mentally challenged child, who came to pick him up, helped to discover another department of the school. They spoke of how their four years old had been handled by school and helped to pacify the hyper behavior because of his mental disability. Considering the importance of upgrading the school on modern lines, Sensory Integration Room (S.I.R) for mentally challenged children was established in 2016, which is now fully functional and helps in soothing down the hyper activity of these kids and divert attention to other colorful aspects of room which ultimately helps in their mental growth. 


Integrating special children in daily/routine activities along with studies is the vision being followed in this school. Passing through the corridors of school I realized how important it is to not only handle these children but also to direct them on the right path that could lead them towards a more independent lifestyle for which, irrespective of their disabilities, they need not rely on others. The Principal Mr. Zafar Chohan told me how every little detail and purpose are taken into consideration in every aspect of this school. He stated that even a small tuck shop in school has been built with the aim of developing money management skills in the school.


Similarly, establishment of skill development/occupational therapy department is also one of the newly developed projects of school on these lines. The role of skill development/occupational therapy is very important as it helps children with disabilities to participate in school activities and improve their social skills. Considering the importance of a financially secure future of these children, this room has been constructed on the direction of Commander 31 Corps, Lt Gen Sher Afgun. Vocational rehabilitation room is specially designed for children like Seema who is just nine years old and one is amazed to see her embroidery skills. Rehan practices sewing on a professional sewing machine. This skill could help him financially in the long run. Similarly, other kids could be seen learning art and craft skills to polish their creativity. There is other equipment placed in the department to help children, once they grow, to start a low budget business or work at a place suitable to their learned skills.


The school follows special diet plans keeping in view the physical requirement of these children with special needs. A special dietitian visits regularly and the diet is adjusted keeping in view the needs and the weather/environment. The kids therefore enjoy homelike atmosphere where the staff looks after them wholeheartedly with full commitment and obligation. The students of CSES are given equal opportunity for extracurricular activities including regular birthday celebrations, art and craft competition and Special Children Day is celebrated on December 3 every year. 


The annual day that is celebrated every year holds special importance for all the children of CSES. Some of them can’t see the colors of function, few can’t hear the festivities in air that day and some of them aren’t able to sing with others, however the joy and festivity they display speaks of the wonders they can do in life once given training and equal opportunity. The pleasure and devotion displayed by the little shining stars moved the audience emotionally.


This year too, the children presented a beautiful and colorful show starting with a welcome song by 4-5 years old cute angels dressed up in gorgeous costumes, followed by traditional songs, gymnastics, tug of war competition, colorful march-past by children belonging to different departments of CSES. The two brightest stars of the function who stole the show were Zoha, the debater, and Shafqat who took part in 100 meters race. Shafqat’s teacher shared that he is a special child with multiple disabilities holding a Gold Medal of All Pakistan Army Special School’s 100 meters race competition. One can see his devotion when he runs because he is not bothered about the people around but only wants to reach the finish line and astonishingly, a child who couldn’t walk properly stood on the victory stand. The fantastic show put together by the children and administration speaks of the professional approach followed in training of students without any discrimination. 


Discrimination against children with disabilities often leads to reduced access to basic social services, especially education, and general lack of recognition. Addressing discrimination and promoting inclusion is an issue of concern in all sectors, and can be accomplished through information and advocacy, strengthening policy and facilitating access to services. The development of relevant policies and programs, however, has been constrained by a lack of precise data on children with disabilities in our country. This is mainly due to inadequate data collection and research on the subject, especially in developing countries. No reliable global estimates on child disability are therefore currently available, although efforts to remedy the situation are well under way and CSES is one true example in this case. The unchangeable universal facts and truths about creation of a human in a certain way by Almighty Allah can be dealt with by molding and changing the way that society and the institutions in the surroundings deal and interact with them. 


Urooj, an eight years old girl, who is physically disabled due to polio was brought on shoulders by her father four years back to the school gate to get admission. She walked towards me without any help holding a beautiful New Year card prepared by her. Today she studies in class 7 and has big dreams and aspirations to follow while moving towards a brighter future. The New Year holds new promises and opportunities provided by an educational institute steadfastly working towards equipping her mentally and physically for all challenges ahead.
“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” 

(Helen Keller, first deaf-blind person 
to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.)


The writer is presently serving as Public Relations Officer at Bahawalpur Corps.
E-mail: [email protected]

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