Meeting with government officials. Raising awareness in communities. Counseling parents and families. Guiding families on how to access benefits of a disability certificate or assistive device. Advocating for school enrollment of children with disabilities. These are just some of the every-day responsibilities that Project IDI Coordinators have as they work tirelessly to keep the project on track, and create opportunities for children with multiple disabilities and vision impairment (MDVI).
In an interview, two Coordinators for Perkins India’s Project IDI shared about their experience being part of the project and why they’re interested in the work. Read on to learn what Mukesh Verma, Program Coordinator at Jayati Bharatam (Lucknow), and Umesh Singh Rawat (Vrindavan), Project Officer at Dr. Shroff’s Charity Eye Hospital (Vrindavan), had to say about their work.
What has been the most significant contribution of Project IDI for the communities you work in?
Mukesh: Because of this project we can ensure that many children with MDVI have access to education. Parents of children with MDVI face a lot of challenges in their day-to-day life and because of Project IDI, we are able to collectively motivate them to face the challenges and also guide them to support and participate in their child’s intervention programme. Parents also realize that their children can learn and improve and now they look at the team members of Project IDI as their only ray of hope.
Umesh: In the communities of Vrindavan / Mathura, Project IDI saw unexpected changes in the children with MDVI, who were counted as disadvantaged in the society. Today, through the activities of the project, awareness has been generated in the society about these children, which is a matter of pride for the project.
What are some of the challenges you face as you work in the community?
Mukesh: When we initiated work in the community we realized that there was a lack of awareness in the community related to disability and community members did not have an idea about MDVI or the needs of these children. Nobody had an idea that these children can learn several skills through regular educational support and intervention.
Also several people in the community had unpleasant experiences in the past with some organizations that promised to provide support; however did not provide any support to the children beyond the initial contact. On account of this, initially we faced a lot of resistance. Developing trust was the biggest challenge. With our consistent efforts and progress in the children witnessed by the family and the community, now there is a lot of acceptance and cooperation from the community.
How have you collaborated with other organizations in the community?
Umesh: We are getting support from government departments (Health Department, Education Department, Disability Department, etc.) as well as private welfare organizations. With their initiatives and our support to families, children are getting their disability certificates processed and also receiving assistive aids and equipment. Many children are getting enrolled in regular schools who were not in school earlier. They are also now getting connected to centers that provide therapy services. With the help of ASHA [accredited social health activist] and Anganwadi workers present in the community, we are able to reach out to many children with disabilities - especially children with MDVI. These health workers are also immensely helpful in creating awareness in the communities.
Have you seen any change in perceptions or attitudes of people in the community towards disability as a result of all the work through Project IDI?
Umesh: Certainly, through Project IDI, we are witnessing a radical change in the perception or attitude of the people of the community towards disability and we are constantly making progress in the project while making a positive impact in the communities.
For this, let me share an example with you. Rashmi, a girl with multiple disabilities and visual impairment is today enrolled in our IDI project. Earlier, Rashmi's parents saw Rashmi's disability as a curse. But soon after she joined the program, our team started working with her, seeing the approach and hard work of our team, their whole perception about disability changed. Those parents who previously were totally against enrolling their child in our program, today they are fully supporting our team.
What motivates you to do this work?
Mukesh: I feel very motivated when I see a smile on the child’s face and the satisfaction and confidence that parents have gained because of Project IDI. This motivates me to do my work with more enthusiasm and commitment. I feel grateful that I am able to support several families to cope with the challenges they face in day-to-day life and support them to improve their life. I feel I am blessed that I can actually make a difference to someone’s life and I am grateful to have the opportunity to support all these children and families and the entire community in many ways.
What are some of the most important things you have learned from working as a Coordinator for this project?
Mukesh: I learned a lot in terms of working together as a team and supporting each other to reach children and their families in any way possible. I also learned to appropriately plan activities and implement them in the community, so that children and their families have access to everything they need.
Umesh: I got to experience the challenges that children with disabilities face in their lives from very close. It has awakened a feeling in me that I will always make people aware that disability is not a curse.
Thanks to the contribution of these Project IDI Coordinators and the teams they oversee, hundreds of children with MDVI are gaining new opportunities to learn and thrive.