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Aash Children Development Centre aims to reach out to children with disabilities in remote Himachal Pradesh

Harsh terrain and extreme cold conditions makes access to therapies and other crucial support inaccessible for children with disabilities in remote, rural corners of Himachal Pradesh. Aash Children Development Centre started by NGO Samphia Foundation is out to change that with a larger goal of making inclusion in the Himalayas a reality. That's our focus on #StoryOfTheWeek.

Aash means hope and Samphia, ability or power in Kullvi, the dialect spoken in Kullu Valley in Himachal Pradesh. It sums up what NGO Samphia Foundation aims to build - an inclusive environment for people with disabilities in this state.

A big step in that direction is the Aash Children Development Centre founded in April this year by the Samphia Foundation. The centre offers therapies and other critical support to children with diverse disabilities ranging from orthopedic, cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, hearing impairments, developmental delays, and sensory processing disorders.

Behind Samphia Foundation are two young women, Dr Shruti More, a pediatric occupational therapist, and Dr Rekha Thakur, physiotherapist, who witnessed how lack of awareness and facilities was affecting children with disabilities in the region. They worked together at a local NGO Handimachal, which works with disabled children.

That experience led them to start Samphia Foundation, which aims to reach remote, rural parts of Himachal Pradesh and build a community where people with different abilities live as active members of society.

The vision is an inclusive world for people with diverse abilities and our clarion call is to bring inclusion in the Himalayas. Though our direct work is providing therapeutic services to children with disabilities, we also want to work with the local community and the government to bring about systemic changes leading to inclusion. - Dr Shruti More, Co-founder, Samphia Foundation

"We made a conscious choice to name the organisation in the local dialect so that it is more relatable to local community", adds Rekha, Clinical Head, Samphia, who is a local and has close ties within the community.

In the six months since its launch, Aash has reached out to over 80 children with diverse disabilities. "Eighty-six children are registered and received therapy", says Rekha. The team is made up of occupational and language therapists, physiotherapists, special educators as well as parent volunteers.

Local partnerships

Inaccessible terrain and hostile weather conditions are among the many challenges specific to the region. Training community workers is one way to overcome this. In In September, a six-day community-based rehabilitation training programme for health care workers was held by Samphia Foundation in association with the United Kingdom charity Multi-Agency International Training and Support (MAITS). "MAITS' Parents Manual for low resource settings was translated in Hindi for the first time.", says Rekha. "Some of the trainees will work in our outreach program and they will children in their homes to provide care.".

Across India one of the most significant challenges faced is scarcity of rehabilitation professionals, points out Bisma Dafadar, a speech-language pathologist and audiologist, who was part of the MAITS training programme.

"There are not enough professionals to meet the requirements. Samphia is helping by collaborating with organisations to conduct trainings, thereby helping community workers and other professionals improve their knowledge and clinical skills. Their team has taken great efforts to work at the grassroots level, involving government organisations, increasing awareness and participation from parents, other members of the society", says Bisma.

Working closely with the local government is key and Samphia was part of a state-level workshop for medical professionals across government hospitals on Disability Management. "We presented our work and got recognised as a referral centre for therapy services", says Shruti.

Aash also offers a Gait training program, based on the concept of activity-based therapies. This strengthens locomotor activities using techniques based on scientific evidence. The lab at Aash has a modified treadmill with a frame to help children stand with support and provides a simulated walking experience. "Its been three months and we are already seeing positive outcomes", adds Shruti.

Samphia partners with private schools to make them accessible to children with disabilities. One of them is the Arya Samaj School in Kullu, which recently enrolled two children with cerebral palsy. The NGO provides the school with special education support and continued guidance to the class teacher.

It is this involvement and engagement at multiple levels that is crucial to making the programme a success, believes Dr Shabnam Rangwala, a paediatric occupational therapist, and CEO-Trustee, Project Noor, who has over 30 years of clinical experience working with children and people with multiple disabilities.

"With children with multiple disabilities, the key factor is to change the quality of life for the family. If you increase the family's understanding of disability and the management, they devise strategies to manage the child. As an NGO, one can do limited things but once the state gets involved, the impact is so much more and Samphia is doing that".

Also Read: Changing the lives of special needs kids in remote India - My Take by Shruti More

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