ABHI – A Lonely Battle

Working to secure a place in the sun for differently abled children of a lesser God – Action For Barrier Free Handicapped Integration (ABHI), a Shimla based NGO, has been at the forefront in providing service and care to rehabilitate children with mental disabilities.

Welfare of differently abled children has largely been ignored by the state government. Bridging the gap ABHI, working on a shoe-string budget has deployed qualified Special Educators to educate and train such children at its centre located at New Shimla.ABHI1

Conceived and established in 2009 by a group of teachers – Neerja Shukla, Minu Sood and Gauri Rastogi, who at one time taught at all boys boarding Bishop Cotton School, Shimla.

Having acquired their initial experience in the field of Mental Retardation (MR) at the BCS Learning Centre, an initiative of Mrs. Kamini Mustafi -the then junior school head, it was soon realized that the experiment needed to be taken outside BCS to serve a wider population. And so ABHI was established.

Minu Sood, Vice President of ABHI recalls of those difficult but inspiring founding days, “During my job at BCS I was inspired to be a MR teacher. My sister, who is no longer with us, also suffered from a similar disorder. It was memory of her that largely contributed my involvement in this field.”

AHBI2ABHI in its founding years was supported by Himachal Pradesh government under ‘Home Based Education’ program of Sarv Shiksha Abhiyan scheme that is targeted at children who are too severely disabled to go to school. It was the first of its type of educational program for mentally retarded children in India.

The state government has identified more than 3000 MR children in Himachal.

With the state government having discontinued funding for the program, a few years ago, ABHI though struggling for funds but has not given up as it fights a lonely battle for the weak and deserving.

The NGO has continued to work with these children and their parents. It now raises funds from its own members, friends and well wishers to pull on from month to month. None of its members, organizers or Special Educators takes any remuneration. Barring a staff of 8 members at the center all others contribute their services for free.

           Core Activities of ABHI

  1. Providing day-care facilities, therapy, basic medical interventions to (currently) 21 children with severe MR and related physical handicaps. They all belong to the lower strata of society.
  2. Pick and drop facilities are available for children in an ambulance donated by a private company.
  3. Implementing a‘Social Skills Enhancing Programme’ under which counseling to parents is provided regarding caring for their children.
  4. Imparting lessons to both children and their parents on how to become independent or self-dependant in the routines of daily living, including hygiene.
  5. ‘Exercises in developing and improving motor skills are supervised by trained physiotherapists with basic equipment donated by well wishers. This prevents further deterioration of bone and muscle mass and helps the children in the body motions of daily living.
  6. Active music therapy to create a pleasant and motivational psychological atmosphere
  7. Imparting of vocational training in crafts such as making paper bags, candles, diyas, painting, greeting cards, some of which are sold during festivals such as Divali and the proceeds given entirely to the children themselves.
  8. Providing a very basic level of education and behavioral modification sessions for students.
  9. Organising social activities for the children such as celebration of festivals, picnics, movie outings etc. to give them a taste of life outside their homes-Festival celebrations, organizing picnics, Movie-Trips for students.
  11. ABHI has come as a breath of fresh air and hope for these children and their parents and it is high time that the state government, whose primary responsibility it is to care for them, stepped forward to fund and support such NGOs.

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