Thursday, February 2, 2012

RAPCD - a haven for children with disabilities

On entering the plot, I was surrounded by several enthusiastic children all wanting to shake my hand. Most of them welcomed me in sign language while others did it with courtesies y. They all looked happy and their enthusiasm was infectious. I was on the premises of the Rwenzori Association of Parents of Children with Disabilities, RAPCD, pronounced as “wrap- seed”. In addition to helping parents, RAPCD provides schooling and residence to disabled children themselves.

As I wrote in my blog of November 24th, 2010, the founder of RAPCD, Maali Wilson, was inspired by his eldest son who was born with a mild form of cerebral palsy. He founded the organization in 2007. At first, RAPCD shared office accommodation with another organization until it acquired a plot of land on the outskirts of Kasese in 2009.

In three short years since moving on its own plot, RAPCD has made phenomenal progress. In November 2010, it accommodated 15 children with disabilities. Today, there are 38 children - 34 hearing-impaired and 4 vision-impaired. Most of them live the institute’s dormitory on site and attend classes conducted by six full-time teachers. At present, RAPCD provides instructions from Primary Level 1 to 4. RAPCD also has other support staff like those who help in the kitchen

Beatrice is a staff member whose job is to reach out to the parents of these children. One of the biggest challenges faced by children with disabilities is the negative attitude of parents. Many parents simply do not see much value in paying attention to the needs of disabled children. Some of them do not even let them out of the home because of shame or fear. Others do not wish to spend time, money and effort on a disabled child who is not likely to become a productive member of the family. So, Beatrice tries to change the behaviour and attitude of these parents towards their disabled children. It’s an uphill task.

Like many other NGOs, RAPCD finds itself always looking for resources for texts, tools, equipment and facilities for teaching. But even with its limited resources, RAPCD has been quite ingenious in meeting its needs. For examp0le, because of limited classroom facility, one bigger room has been partitioned and classes are held simultaneously for students at two levels. One class is conducted in sign language for hearing-impaired students while the other class is held for the rest of the students. Sign language instructions are quiet. So, the two classes continue instructions without disturbing each other.

There is a fee of 60,000 shillings, about $30, for each child for a three-month term. The fee includes living accommodation, teaching facility, plus three meals daily. Not all parents are able to pay the fees, and, in such cases, RAPCD shows some flexibility and reduces or waives the fee.

Where does Maali find resources to maintain such a facility? RAPCD does not have financial support from any local, national or international agency or from any level of government. But, he has a very supportive group of friends and well-wishers who give cash and in-kind contributions like bricks and mortar and paints and labour for constructions of buildings. In addition, Maali has an extensive network of individuals in Europe, North America and elsewhere through his Church. He constantly nurtures his network and in turn, individuals in the network support RAPCD in a variety of ways by donating cash or by giving books, Braille machines, a laptop and a camera.

Maali has ambitious plans. He wants to establish a rehab centre for children born with congenital disabilities. With prompt medical attention, many of these disabilities can be treated. He also wants to acquire RAPCD’s own transport, buy additional land, build a self-contained hostel/guest house, retain an occupational therapist and buy a piece of land specifically to grow fruits and vegetables and raise poultry and cattle. With his tenacity and hard work, I have no doubt that Maali will meet his goals.

As I walked around RAPCD’s grounds, I was struck by how happy the children looked. They were full of enthusiasm and energy. They come from families struggling to make ends meet. Poverty and negative attitude of many parents make life of these disabled children extremely difficult at home. In contrast, at RAPCD, they receive plenty of care and love. Seeing these children in their red uniforms jumping and playing and laughing was a treat.

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