A village for the differently able kids in Kolkata

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Kolkata, March 19 (ANI): On visiting a special village on the eastern fringes of Kolkata one can find several deaf and mute children learning to talk, mentally challenged children doing mathematics and the handicapped receiving vocational training.

'Pratibandi', the special village for the disabled, is today emerging as an example of self-sufficiency being gained by the differently-abled.

Set up by the Paschim Banga Rajya Pratibandi Sammelani, the 'Pratibandi Village', spread over 17 Bighas of land, received government support and also private donations.

Besides, providing schooling up to standard X for 250 hearing-impaired children, the village has provisions for 80 mentally challenged children.

Boys and girls at the school can avail hostel facilities and the Sammelani takes care of food, bags, uniforms, books, shoes etc. For, most of the children come here from economically weaker sections of society.

"We have an organization called the Pashcim Banga Rajya Pratibandi Sammelani.

Here we have a village for the disabled. The school was first stared in 1992 with five students and then we shifted to new place in 1995. The number of students increased and we started hostels for boys and girls. We teach from Grade A to standard VIII and provide vocational training from standard V to Class VIII.

We received Madhyamik recognition two years ago. Last year 5 students appeared for the school final, one girl scored first division and four others got second division. This year, eight students have appeared for the school final.

At present, we have 250 students," said Madhumita Dutta , Secretary, Paschim Banga Rajya Pratibandi Sammelani.

"At the Helen Keller School, the students are hearing impaired or deaf. As they can't hear, they are also speech handicapped. Most of them come from economically backward families. Some have fathers who are rickshaw pullers or daily labourers, their mothers work as domestic helps. Most students come from such families," Madhumita added.

The village focuses, first, on helping the disabled students to overcome their handicap, and then, motivating them towards vocations according to their talent and interest.

Hearing-impaired children are given speech therapy to enable them to talk along with regular academic classes.

Mentally challenged children too are into an academic curriculum according to the mild, medium and severe categories of affliction. Be it Down Syndrome, autism or cerebral palsy.

But beside everything, the success of the village lies in the fact that the children here are trained vocationally, making them independent.

"Students get vocational training as per age and knack. Boys get training in printing, book binding, tailoring, chalk making, terracotta item making whereas girls get training in making soft toys, zardosi, embroidery, etcetera, " Madhumita further added.

From standard V onwards, they are sorted into groups as per individual's ability and taught arts and crafts, embroidery, soft toy making, paper bag and candle making, chalk making, printing, book binding and tailoring.

Those, who desist from higher studies after standard VIII, are helped to find employment in shops, factories or even set up their own toy-making, candle-making, printing , tailoring units.

However, many of the students are now continuing their studies and appearing successfully for school's final examinations.

The village has had good results in the matriculation exams from its children in recent years.

Also, the village has a garment making export-oriented unit where about 80 hearing-impaired and orthopedic-challenged youth are employed as tailors.

They earn a salary varying from Rs.1,500 to Rs. 2,500 depending on hours of work and experience.

The village runs the unit in collaboration with a company Frontier Foundation, which handles the marketing and sales end of the venture.

For those, like Kakoli Bhaskar, who is physically challenged, the climb to the fifth floor, where the export unit is housed, is exhausting and tedious.

Kakoli makes the tedious climb everyday because the work has given her a huge sense of self worth. The salary of Rs 2,000 she receives has also made her self-reliant.

Kakoli Bhaskar, Orthopaedic-challenged worker at Garment factory, says: I learnt this work here. I climb to the fifth floor everyday and work. I get Rs. 2,000 as salary. This has put me on the path to progress due to this garment work."

This village includes a school called Nobel Mission which works with mentally challenged children.

The Village for the Disabled has committed teachers and volunteers who have proven that given the right opportunities, the disabled have the ability not only follow a regular academic curriculum, but also to learn to work according to their interests and be self-reliant. By Ajitha Menon (ANI)

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