On Thursday 15 and Friday 16 March 2018, I was incredibly fortunate to travel with two of the Special Educators from Raphael out into the remote Himalayan mountains as part of the John Hunt Outreach Program. A nearly 8 hour drive along very narrow & incredibly winding roads and we reached the district of Uttarkashi, to the north of DehraDun. Uttarkashi is divided into six smaller ‘blocks’. This was the final block in this district to be visited by the team. I couldn’t believe the distances covered to provide training, advice and support around disability.
On arrival, Mini, Ganga and I presented to 215 Anganwadi – woman who look after children aged 0-6 in the villages, about disability and how to identify disability in children. Some had walked up to 30kms to be there and were incredibly appreciative of the information and training they received. I spoke about how to identify learning disabilities in children with the assistance of an interpreter. Our training session was cut a little short as a thunderstorm threatened and many of the woman had a long walk in the rain to return to their villages.
Early the following morning we were taken by one of the Supervisors up into a very remote village where we joined in one of the Anganwadi sessions; what a truly incredible experience to share in traditional village life.
Mid morning the Anganwadis from around the district returned with children they identified as having delayed development, and their parents. We assessed 31 children from 8 months old to 14 years through a range of simple activities such as blowing bubbles, sorting blocks by colour and shape and copying simple shapes and patterns. The child’s parents and the Anganwadi were also asked many questions about the child and their development. The children presented with a range of disabilities including deafness, cerebral palsy and intellectual disability, to name a few. It was very obvious to me that these children were very much loved and the parents were incredibly grateful that we were taking an interest in their child and offering advice and support. The Anganwadi and the parents were very keen to learn about different strategies to assist the child and were given handouts to support them. Many parents were also issued with a Disability Certificate for their child. This Certificate entitles the parents to receive 1,000 Rupees per month from the Government (approximately $20 AUD). This financial assistance will make a huge difference in the lives of these families.
I was incredibly impressed with the work of the outreach program and could see the difference it makes to the lives of so many rural children and their families.
It will be vitally important that there is follow up support for these children and ongoing training for the Anganwadi who work closely with the children and their families if the Program is going to make a difference long term.
Kim, Raphael Volunteer