Introductory Speech by Pauzagin Tonsing on unveiling ceremony of Foundation Stone for Ability Village (An Empowerment Centre for Persons with Disabilities) on July 27, 2013, 2pm at Ability Village site, Pearsonmun, Churachandpur, Manipur
I would like to start by extending my warmest welcome to the UN Resident Coordinator-Madam Lise Grande, CEO and Founder of Salwan Media-Mr. Harjiv Singh and his wife Julia and Evangelical Baptist Convention General Secretary -Rev S.Vungminthang, and his wife U Vung, all dignitaries, our donors, and well-wishers on this momentous occasion.
The first time when World Disability Day was celebrated in Churachandpur in 2008, there were less than 20 people who came to attend, but today I see hundreds of faces and it gives me immense joy to know that all our efforts and hard work has not been in vain. I extend my heartiest welcome to everyone present here today on this occasion.
It is a daunting task to enroll a child with special needs in a school for the able. For two heart-breaking years, each morning as I dropped my son off to his school, I forced him into a world which was completely alien to him. I looked on as he struggled to make sense of his surroundings and felt that I had failed as a father. I felt an overwhelming sense of defeat.
Having reached this remarkable milestone today, I cannot help but retrospect on the cold wintry morning, when my wife and I rode our motorcycle and visited a family who we were informed, had a child with special needs. The family, especially, the parents were deeply self-conscious and reluctant to make our acquaintance. It was only when we told them that we also had a child with special needs and shared our experiences with them that they gradually opened up to us.
That was in the year 2007!
Almost five years have passed since the encounter on that chilly January morning and now, those very parents are one of the most active members of our Parents Support Group. They now have a strong conviction that their child, if given her fair share of opportunities, will realize dreams every human being is entitled to. With the collaboration of parents and disabled adults, the Centre for Community Initiative, set up in 2002 was restructured in 2007 to focus on Disability.
In 2011, a God-sent guardian Mr. Vunglallian lent us a portion of his school, Lalpuithluaii Foundation School, absolutely free of charge to set up a school. I would also like to mention the donation of Rs.10,000/- by the Lalpuithluaii Foundation School and another Rs. 6670 by its students that was painstakingly raised through a charity-box which became the seed money of TMI. 15 children with special needs then got a quiet corner on earth where they can be themselves without being judged. They had The Malsawm Initiative (A School for Children with Special Needs). In just two years of operation, 5 of our children are now enrolled in regular schools! Praise the Lord!
We are now into the third year of our initiative in a centre based service and we have had more than 30 children who have benefitted from it. The reason behind the success of The Malsawm Initiative is none other than the citizens of this District (and our good fortune in having a Deputy Commissioner who cares). I take this occasion to thank the people for their immense contribution, be it monetary or in kind, in prayers and invaluable encouragements. Some lent their support with used items while some donated 10 rupees, all the money they have. Some support us through staffs’ salary and some children open piggy banks. Also, I want tothank our Technical Support – Voice and Vision India who supports our teachers training and developing skills. And, it would be a sin if I do not mentioned our Network Support- Salwan Media. Salwan Media fecilitates achance to meetis Ms Lise Grande. Today, I see not just its CEO Harjiv of Salwan Media, but with his wife Julia. They come all the way from Delhi just for this program by leaving their works, kids and parents who need constant care. It is because of these that we have come this far and I take this opportunity to convey my deepest gratitude.
However, it breaks my heart every time I have to turn down parents seeking to enroll their children because we do not have enough rooms to accommodate them or even enough teachers to teach them. I understand their disappointment and despair because I had the same experience when I was looking around for a school for my son in Shillong and Guwahati. The thought of being able to help these parents and their children is what motivates me to continue with steadfast commitment to realize the Ability Village so that I can help as many as I can.
I have witnessed the winds of change that has been sweeping Lamka from the time we began our work, to the moment that has led us here. The erstwhile side-lined and neglected sections of the community, those we term as disabled and deem incompetent to take part in the various spheres of normal life, have now come of their own. Some have found their place in the Church pulpits, some in computer technology and some in music. Those that had been side-lined in Government offices and social gatherings now hold their head a little higher. Many of them have learnt to explore and exert their identities within the society and the latter is gradually learning that they have as much right to be here as the rest.
Though initially slow in accepting, the community is learning to accept that persons with disabilities are part of the society. Social inclusion, now seem like a possible reality as parents and family now openly acknowledge the fact that their child is disabled. It is our belief that acceptance must begin in the family. With this belief, we start the Parents Support Group. Now we have also incubated Unau (this means siblings) Network. We also experienced a grave need for the disabled community to initiate a movement by and for themself and this led to the formation of Churachandpur District Disabled Union.
Disability is no longer a social taboo. Community-based Organizations have started to include them. The most influential organization of our society – the Church- began providing them with platforms to showcase their talents and it gives me immense joy to see some churches constructing accessible pulpits as well. Through advocacy campaigns, the local government and local administrations are trying hard to give persons with disabilities access to Government schemes and programs. Our District is the only one in the entire state of Manipur that has a District Medical Board for issuance of Disability Certificate, though it is not functional till date. Hence, we need to put more pressure and find means to make it function efficiently because we have a dream that one day our district will be renowned as a Disability Aware District within the country.
On this day, as we begin the process of turning our dream into reality, we thank Pu Authanglian for his kindness in giving us this land with an extended period to pay for it. As we unveil the foundation stone of “Ability Village (An Empowerment Centre for Persons with Disabilities),” it is our dream and goal that in this place, persons with disabilities will find a home where they will learn to dream. We have faith that their dreams will not only take firm roots but also that it will reach for the skies.
We dream of the Ability Village with various components, viz The Malsawm Initiative (A School for Children with Special Needs), Vocational Training Centre, Counseling Centre, Therapy and Rehabilitation Centre, Recreation Centre, Sensory Park/Garden and Resource and Training Centre. Among these components, the School is already on-going, and we have hired a trained person on part-time basis for Counseling and Therapy. Under Resource and Training, we have been given an opportunity to do a survey for compiling authentic data on disability in Churachandpur District by Christofel Blind Mission (CBM).
Our friend, architect Liankhanlun Ngaihte volunteered to draw a master plan of this Ability Village. The near final master-plan for the Village is ready with all components designed to cause the least possible environmental impact. The proposed village will comprise mainly of 2 blocks: a teaching block and a residential block. All facilities within the campus will be disabled-friendly.
The Teaching block, the most forward of those on Ability Village, signals the entry to the village. The double storey teaching will house various activities- teaching, counseling, therapy, rehabilitation, vocational training, and resource and training center. The residential block will comprise of a 3-bedroom residence, 2 guest rooms and a dormitory for approximately 20 students and trainees. With the need to outsource teachers, teachers’ quarters will be extended to accommodate about 8 families. This block is arranged following the natural contour.
The design embraces, as far as practical and affordable, a number of sound ESD principles. Rainwater will be held in a retention tank for irrigation and all surface water will be conveyed to an open retention basin/rain garden adjoining the teaching block. Solar collectors will be added to the roof area of the building.
Though the master-plan is ready, we do not yet have the funds to even begin building. The road ahead of us is long but we have faith in God to provide our needs through His people. As we place our dream before you, together we can make Ability Village a place where persons with disabilities can explore and enhance their abilities and enable their inabilities. We will now build make-shift rooms with whatever resources we have and try to shift to this Ability Village by the next academic session.
With all these developments, it is our dream to fulfill Article no 1 of United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) (which India ratified in 2007), i.e. “to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.” The Ability Village is but one small step towards that goal. We plant our dream for Ability Village in the hope that it will take roots and grow to create a society where no human being is side-lined on the merit of his looks and disabilities.