Sun, 24 Nov 2002

Helping disabled children thrive and live in dignity

Leo Wahyudi S, Contributor, Jakarta

The little building in Ciputat, on the outskirts of the capital, is surrounded by trees, shutting it off from the hustle-bustle of the city.

The building is colorful and in many ways looks and feels like a kindergarten classroom. But in fact it is a health center for handicapped children.

Founded by the Society for the Care of Disabled Children (YPAC), this building is a pilot project for family-based rehabilitation (RDK). The program, which prioritizes handicapped children being treated by their families, also involves the residents of Cempaka Putih, Ciputat.

When you enter the building the first thing you hear is the noise of small children.

"Oom (uncle) ... Oom...!" a six-year-old girl shouts.

The girl, Nur Ain, is still learning to pronounce words, as she does not have a palate, which also makes it difficult for her to eat and drink.

Nur Ain is one of the disabled children receiving treatment at the health center.

Her mother, Marwani, cried as she recalled the three painful years after Nur Ain was born. Her daughter's handicap left her isolated, particularly as the neighbors taunted Nur Ain.

"I had to cope with my own depression for years until I came here and regained my confidence," Marwani said. She has overcome her problems after receiving therapy.

Nanang, who is in the third year at a state elementary school, suffered years of taunts from the children in his neighborhood. Though his right leg is thinner than his left, Nanang has overcome his disability and now plays with the other children in his neighborhood.

From a very poor family of 12, Nanang was frequently made to feel inferior because of his handicap. His father abandoned him and left him with his mother, who is also handicapped.

Wearing a Boy Scout uniform, he takes part in after-school therapy every Saturday, where he often plays with Ogi, another handicapped boy.

Asked if his friends often made fun of him at school, Nanag said, "I have many friends. I love them all because I can play with them."

Ogi is also brimming with self-confidence these days, said his mother Narti, despite his withered right leg.

"Ogi never shows any sign of inferiority and it makes me proud of him," she said of her son, who is in the second year of elementary school.

Another girl at the center, Nur Afifah, is quick to warm up to strangers. There is no sign of her handicap, though she has been deaf from birth.

She has learned to pronounce words thanks to her mother's guidance and therapy. She is able to attend a regular without any problems.

It is true that handicapped children suffer socially because of their handicaps. And their parents also suffer in the face of rejection on the part of both society and their families.

But the love and caring of parents slowly earns social recognition. It is the main purpose of RDK to provide a more human touch to people living with handicaps, rather than discriminating against them.

Sorta S. Tobing, YPAC chairwoman, said handicapped children must be considered as children with special needs in order to prevent society from discriminating against them.

"They are the same as other children. Their handicaps are merely features that mark them," she said.

She called on adults to respect handicapped children regardless of their physical or mental condition. Children with handicaps are in need of medical, social and educational rehabilitation, she said.

Rehabilitation does not always mean curing their handicaps but rather making the children better equipped to survive and thrive in the world despite their handicaps.

That is why in the rehabilitation center, these brave children are treated with total care and wholehearted respect.