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Community based rehabilitation
The Community Based Rehabilitation Program of CSIRC started in 2010. The area selected to render rehabilitation services was Kookal Panchayat, about forty kilometers from Kodaikanal in the Upper Hills. Kookal consists of four hamlets, Kookal, Gundupatti, Puthuputhur and Pazhamputhur. This project was funded by CBM, Australia. Eight parents from these four hamlets, with great difficulty sent their Children with Disabilities (CWD) to our Centre for intervention. Many other children and even adults with disabilities due to poor economic condition and lack of travel facilities were not able to come for intervention and therapy to Kodaikanal.

The marked development and empowerment of these eight CWD children who accessed our Centre services prompted parents and relatives of others who could not make it to Kodaikanal to request CSIRC to start Direct Services in the four hamlets. Their vulnerability for disability is high and there are no other such interventions in their villages. On conducting a need analysis it was found that the most important requirements of these villages were public sanitation and hygiene. None of the houses had toilets and there were only open clogged drains running through the village. People with disabilities were excluded and sidelined from the community; there were no proper medical facilities for prevention, diagnosis, intervention and management of disability. There was near-total lack of awareness on disability, education, health, hygiene and sanitation, chemicals in environment and processed foods, accessibility to their rights and entitlements, livelihood programs, inclusion and integration of people with disabilities in the society. Lack of transport facilities, extreme mountain weather and remoteness of the villages became a deterrent for teachers and medical staff from attending to their duties and continuing in their posts. So along with starting to identify children and adults with disability, planning was also initiated on how to address the issue of sanitation, environmental public safety and hygiene and health. CSIRC conducted a house-to-house survey and was able to identify children and adults with disability. An individual rehabilitation program was worked out and children were sent to schools and “Anganwadis” (Government run Preschool). Parents were counselled on their child’s condition and how to move forward. Field staff were appointed and given training on disability and development and they were monitored by the staff of CSIRC on a regular basis.

Regular Medical Camps were conducted in collaboration with local hospitals. Awareness workshops on health, hygiene and sanitation were conducted along with these camps. In consultation with the people of Kookal hamlet and Panchayat officials it was decided to construct a modern public toilet in the bus stand area at the site of a run-down facility. Twelve cubicles, with one toilet in each section for people with disabilities as well as elderly were constructed funded by the Consulate of the Federal Republic of Germany, Chennai. Solar lighting was provided. The entire facility was accessible to people with disabilities. This community toilet was dedicated to the village by Mrs Gunawathy Fernandez, Regional Director, CBM (South Asia Regional Office), Bangalore on 15 December 2011. Awareness on sanitation and hygiene were provided simultaneously by the Centre staff in collaboration with Gandhigram University, Dindigul. With the intervention of CSIRC there has been a tremendous change in the attitude of Kookal villagers, many of them starting to construct individual toilets in their homes. The streets became clean and the general hygiene of the whole village became much better. Another toilet exclusively for the women of Kookal was constructed as per the need expressed by them. This is also accessible to women with disabilities and is solar powered and also fixed with an incinerator. This has helped women in the village from going out into the fields for potty at odd times in the dark. These toilets are used by almost all the people in the village and the percentage of open defecation (and its allied danger to public health by spread of infection) has drastically reduced. This was the first time that Differently-abled people with disabilities were coming together in an organized manner in these hamlets and actually their unique needs and our intervention sparked a hygiene reformation in the area. The Government as well as the general public started acknowledging Differently-abled people as human beings with a mind and spirit, and all were able to see the difference in their development along with that of the villages in general: a sort of hidden issue had come out into the open that stimulated empathy amongst the residents. The world needs more empathy but what with the materialism of selfishness around us people often lack empathy-direction. Continuous awareness programs were conducted on different topics. Orthotic aids, special furniture and learning materials required were provided.

The CSIRC Staff including the Rehabilitation Professionals and the Field Staff received regular training on CBR and their capacities built to take the Outreach project forward. Regular screening camps were conducted to identify people with disabilities. Eye camps were conducted in collaboration with Aravind Eye Hospital, Theni. People with disabilities were all provided with National Identity Cards. They never knew about the entitlements provided by the Government of India. They were all linked with the District Rehabilitation Department at Dindigul. Self Help Groups were formed with people with disabilities and their parents in all the hamlets. This gave them a sense of unity. Regular parents meetings were conducted. In 2014 we selected six more villages in Vilpatti Panchayat closer to Kodaikanal. We identified people with disabilities and appointed field workers and designed individual rehabilitation programs. Activities carried out include
  • home-based interventions
  • counseling to parents and relatives of children with disabilities
  • integration of children with disabilities into local schools
  • training local school teachers, field workers, technical teams
  • organizing awareness programs in the villages on disability issues, health and hygiene
  • linking people with disabilities with the Government
  • forming Disabled People’s Organizations (DPO) and Parents’ Groups
  • conducting medical and rehabilitation interventions
  • providing appropriate assistive devices, special furniture and learning materials
  • accessing Government schemes, vocational skills training and income generation programs.
The main occupation in the villages is farming. We have been propagating Organic Farming through people with disabilities and some of them have taken it up and are becoming role models in their villages. They are provided regular training and linkages are made to sell their products. Counseling on chemicals and dyes in proprietary products is ongoing: encouraging people to make their own cooking spice mixtures (masala) from scratch. Six Disabled People’s Organizations (DPOs) with forty five (45) members were formed in all the villages with technical guidance from ADD India, Bangalore: they were given training on how to become more united and demand what is due to them from the Government. Parents of children with intellectual disabilities were formed into groups. Nine groups function in different areas around Kodaikanal with eighty two (82) members. The DPO and parents’ groups are given regular training and are forming into an empowered group. Star Kodai Disability Federation was initiated on 3 December 2017 combining the DPO and the Parents Groups. They made a statement of their arrival by conducting the International Day for Differently-abled Persons at Kodaikanal with a public function and cultural program by Differently-abled people and their parents.

It has been through the CBR program we were able to reach out to remote villages around Kodaikanal, identify people with disabilities provide rehabilitation programs, empower them to form groups, avail their entitlements and create an identity for them in their communities. The health and sanitation projects has made a great impact on the lives of all people in these villages and changed the way the younger generation in these villages want to live their lives. With the empowerment of DPO and Parents Groups, we are sure that people with disabilities in the hills of Kodaikanal will unite and work towards an Inclusive Society. The rehabilitation of the children identified in these areas continues with our staff visiting theses areas regularly and doing the follow up.