Sun, 24 Nov 2002

Families of handicapped children struggle for social recognition

John Carvel, Guardian News Service, London

Having a handicapped child is a challenge. There is the constant fight for acceptance, and the struggle to help the child achieve a normal life in the face of often blatant prejudice.

"The misperception in the community is that handicapped children bring a psychological hardship to families," said social worker Syafiah Gani.

Since 1997 Syafiah has been working on a pilot program called family-based rehabilitation (RDK).

She works with five other volunteers to manage the program in Cempaka Putih, Ciputat, Tangerang.

Society's rejection of handicapped children leads to discrimination and often abandonment of the children.

A therapist with the University of Indonesia, Oki, said mental and physical rehabilitation was often necessary to help these children lead normal lives.

"This kind of rehabilitation requires mutual cooperation from parents, children, therapists and social workers," he said.

Unlike traditional rehabilitation clinics, which usually offer expensive medical and therapeutic treatments, RDK is a very affordable therapeutic program.

RDK also offers parental counseling to help parents cope with raising a handicapped child, Syafiah said.

"It's impossible for disabled children to earn social recognition if the parents themselves can't love and accept them," she said.

Ipah, who is in her 40s, shared her experience when her husband left her and their handicapped son.

"Life was hard. I had to live with my son, whose right leg is withered. Unfortunately it's the same as my leg. My neighbors insulted me. But because I was poor I couldn't do anything," she said.

When she joined the RDK rehabilitation program, she began to gain some self-esteem. She encouraged her son to attend regular school and she got a job.

"Now I wash my neighbors' clothes and I also get paid for cleaning the health service center. My son has foster parents who pay for his school tuition," Ipah said.

Nunung, the mother of a mentally handicapped daughter, said she had accepted her daughter's condition.

"She turned out to be a blessing in disguise in my life. Because of her condition, I have met many important people and this has broadened my point of view," she said.

Nunung and the parents of other handicapped children have spearheaded the family-based rehabilitation program to fight for equality and recognition in society.

So far, 19 families and 22 handicapped children have joined the program. Four of the 22 children go to regular school, two go to special schools and the rests are preschool age.

Rehabilitasi Dalam Keluarga or Family-Based Rehabilitation (RDK), PKK Desa Cempaka Putih, Jl. Jambu No. 12, Cempaka Putih, Ciputat, Tangerang. Tel: 021-7402209

-- Leo Wahyudi S.