Empowering Communities: Jai Vakeel Foundation
For over 70 years, Jai Vakeel Foundation has reached out to thousands of intellectually disabled children. The Foundation is committed to maximizing the potential as well as in ensuring inclusion for the intellectually disabled. The global evolution of the terms ‘inclusion’ and ‘disability’ have brought about a seismic shift within the paradigm of this space. In 1995, the UN ESCAP (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific) initiated, ‘Equalization of Equal Opportunities’, ‘Protection of Rights’ and ‘Full Participation Act’, aimed at broadening the understanding of disability.
In 2006, the UN corroborated their learnings from 1995 and declared the Human Rights approach to Persons with Disability (PwD) thereby enabling each person to fully participate in the society. The Office of the United Nations United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), states that, “…the modern concept of disability perceives disability as an interaction between an individual’s personal condition (such as being in a wheelchair or having a visual impairment) and environmental factors (such as negative attitudes or inaccessible buildings) which together lead to disability and affect an individual’s participation in society.” These paradigm shifts gave birth to the ‘Incheon Strategy’ adopted by Asia Pacific region (2013-2022) to ensure equal rights for PwD in the region.
The Incheon strategy has outlined the core aspects for fostering inclusion:
• Respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy, including the freedom to make one’s own choices, and independence of persons;
• Full and effective participation and inclusion in society;
• Respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity;
• Equality of opportunity;
• Equality between men and women;
• Respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities and respect for the right of children with disabilities to preserve their identities.
Community Integration Program: Foundation’s Approach
Inclusion at Jai Vakeel reflects the above ethos and thus goes beyond the realm of just assistive devices, therapy, healthcare, education and vocational training. Measures are taken to ensure that students participate outside the walls of their family homes and the school campus. The Community Integration Program (CIP) has been initiated since the past 4 years with the aim to:
• Raise awareness in society about PwDs.
• Enable students to interact and be independent in the society.
• Level the playing field by providing opportunities for recreation, job placements etc.
• Minimize the impact of socio-economic impediments to create opportunities for inclusion.
• Provide parents with the confidence and skill to engage with society.
• Empower parents to become champions of change in terms of realising the potential and exploring possibilities for their children.
The Foundation strongly believes that the potential of its students is truly expressed when the students are interacting with the real world; i.e. outside the realm of the school campus. At the foundation we question:
“Are the students and their families empowered to fully engage within the realms of their immediate community and society at large?”
Every initiative at The Foundation is purely focussed on the empowerment of our students and their families to lead more inclusive lives. The CIP enables Jai Vakeel to measure the impact of their inputs towards Inclusion, and have a clear pathway to actualise potential of the students and make inclusion a real possibility.
Making Inclusion a Reality: Our Activities
Exposure Trips: In the past year and a half, Jai Vakeel students have had thirty unique opportunities to engage equally within society. Some of these visits include amusement parks, art festivals, fun fairs at mainstream private schools, theatre and musical performances, cinemas, zoo, museums, restaurants, supermarkets, public service cells (police stations, fire stations etc.) and coffee shops.
Breaking Barriers: In the last year, twelve children from the Jai Vakeel Autism centre watched a movie in a cinema hall with their family for the first time. This enabled us in defying preconceptions at different levels:
• It enabled students in overcoming their fears of the darkness and loud sounds.
• Students managed themselves with ease and comfort.
• Parents revisited what was possible for their children and for their own lives going forward.
• A sense of ‘normalcy’ for the family was redefined and as we work towards ‘normal’ for our students and their families, the importance of an enabling and accepting environment cannot be overlooked.
Interaction/s with Mainstream Educational Institutions: Another aspect of the CIP is one-on-one interactions with students from mainstream private schools and colleges. Some of the schools and colleges that have engaged with us are Bombay International School, Cathedral and John Connon School, Dhirubhai Ambani International School, The American School of Mumbai, HR College, KC College, Jamnabai Narsee School among many.
The OHCHR states “special schools enable persons with disabilities to interact only with other persons with disabilities or with certain “professionals”. This forces them to live a situation, which is not realistic since it does not reflect the diversity of society. Whom does this benefit then?”
Fruits of Integration
Creating Community Partnerships: These engagements have mutually benefitted both the students of Jai Vakeel as well as visiting schools and college students. Jai Vakeel has begun to see the ripple effect of such partnerships and believe it to be just the start.
• Seven private schools collaborated and hosted Mumbai’s first swim-thon with over a hundred participants.
• These partnerships also led to the birth of ‘The Crescent Hearts’, which raises awareness and fundraises for the Jai Vakeel students. The power of these interactions enabled our students to go beyond the realm of mere exposure, into a profound space of financial independence.
The OHCHR also underscores the role of society in providing equal opportunities to PwDs: “The concepts of full and effective participation and of inclusion mean that society, both in its public and in its private dimensions, is organized so as to enable all people to take part fully. They mean that society and relevant actors value persons with disabilities and recognize them as equal participants—. It is a two-way process that promotes the acceptance of persons with disabilities and their participation, and encourages society to open up and be accessible to persons with disabilities.”
Creating Meaningful Employment: The CIP has opened doors to opportunities through placements for the students. In the past three years seventeen students have been placed in jobs and others are being employed in sheltered vocational skill workshops. The places of employment include Sodexo, Monsher India Pvt Ltd, Prodon Printers, and Rhoda Textiles etc.
Impact within the space of inclusion and development is an ongoing and ever-evolving dialogue. Over the years it is evident to the Foundation that impact will look different for its students depending on the level of disability. Thus inclusion is evaluated at three levels. First, being engagement within the family, second within the community and third within Society.
For Jai Vakeel proof is in the pudding. It has been rewarding for the foundation to receive encouraging feedback from the employers.
Krishna has been working with us since December 2016. He is good at his work, extremely sincere, hardworking and honest. His friendly personality has helped him in integrating well with his colleagues and he has even made a couple of friends. -Surender Chauhan, Sodexo.
The Foundation continues to aim at strengthening the evidence of impact in equal opportunities for its students and creates an accepting and aware environment for all of this to thrive.