Nuns help people with disabilities live with dignity in Madhya Pradesh

June 29, 2016 by  
Filed under newsletter-india

Bhopal, June 27, 2016: For nearly five decades, since his childhood, Madhukar Omkar was confined to his home because of his paralyzed legs. “Now I have got wings to fly,” he says tapping a new tricycle he received a week ago.

Omkar was among 54 people with disabilities who were given free tricycles at a June 18 event at Karuna (Mercy) Hospital in Sendhwa, in the remote Barwani district of Madhya Pradesh state, central India. The initiative was part of an effort by the nuns of the Order of St. Augustine to bridge the gap between people with disabilities and mainstream society. The nuns funded the initiative in collaboration with the local Asha Gram Trust.

Fifty-year-old Omkar told that he was under the care of his younger brother, a casual laborer who struggles to feed his family. “The dream of a tricycle therefore remained a dream for a long time,” until the nuns helped, he said.

“It is a new life for me as now I can move out of the home and see the world,” he said.

Sister Julia Thundathil, who heads the St. Augustine Social Service Society (SASSS), said the nuns’ work to integrate people with disabilities into mainstream society challenges the frequent treatment of disabled people “as a curse to families”, forced to “live a life of neglect.”

“They never get the attention they need. They can become skilled if we train them, identifying their abilities and skills. Unfortunately, their families keep them confined to their homes, much to their disappointment and frustration,” she said. “So it is our responsibility to ensure that they too lead a dignified life like others.”

Once they start to move around people like Omkar will find their own ways to be active in society, Sister Thandathil explained, and may also engage in income generating actives that can improve their dignity and self-worth.

Another beneficiary was a 25-year-old female college student and paraplegic named Savita Solanki. “I feel liberated now,” Solanki said, explaining how she previously depended on others to shuttle her the two kilometer distance between her hostel and college. “I needed help to even get into an auto rickshaw,” she told

“Now I can go to college without assistance,” she said. Solanki’s father died when she was a child and her family “could not afford to buy a tricycle.” She lives in Singuwa, a village, under the care of her two brothers, who work their half hectare farm in order to support their families.

Solanki’s studies will culminate in her final examination on July 1, and her new transportation enables her to mark the occasion with worship. “I will go to the temple and offer prayers after the examination,” she said.

Sub-divisional Magistrate M. L. Kanal opened the event to distribute the tricycles. He lauded the nuns’ work for people with disabilities.

“Disabled people can achieve greater things if they take their disability as a challenge and not as an impairment,” he said.

The district has a high number of disabled people, according to an SASSS survey. Libin Arresseril, the agency’s program co-ordinator, said this is probably because of poverty and lack of easy access to medical care. The survey says some 20,000 disabled people live in the district of 1.4 million people.

In a bid to help them, SASSS has formed more than 150 self-help groups, which assist some 1,800 people with disabilities. In the next phase the goal is to extend assistance to all 20,000 disabled people in the district, Arresseril said.

Members of the self-help group visit families of each disabled person and talk to family members about the need to respect people with disabilities and accept them as “a blessing not a curse,” he said. The SASSS has also appointed care workers to each family, to help them restore dignity to disabled people.

The nuns’ initiative has also helped to form a disabled persons organization to bring them together to learn about their rights and responsibilities. “They will get special training for livelihood projects so that they don’t have to depend on the mercy of others,” Arresseril said.

The SASSS has so far trained more than 1,800 disabled people in spice and clothing production, tailoring and weaving, among other skills, helping each of them build confidence and earn an average of 300 rupees (US$5) each day.

“When people begin to accept disability as a gift, disabled people like Omkar will no longer be confined to their homes,” Arresseril said.

– ucan

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