Disability can be prevented but not cured. And, contrary to the widespread belief in the society, it has nothing whatsoever to do with karma.

This was among the many things shares as part of awareness during a workshop on disability in Trashigang yesterday.

Local leaders of the 15 gewogs took part in the workshop that was aimed to raise awareness on the challenges faced by people living with disabilities.

The founder and director of Draktsho Vocational Training Centre for Special Children and Youth, Rigzin Padma Tshogyal, said that discrimination and social stigma attached with people living with disability needed to be addressed by changing people’s attitude.

She said that unlike in the western countries, there was minimal support from the communities for people living with disabilities in the country. “Especially in the rural pockets of our country, due to lack of awareness, these people are being discriminated.”

Rigzin Padma Tshogyal said that since disability was a new issue in the country, many of the parents were ignorant of the rights of their children living with disabilities. “We want them (people with disabilities) to know about their rights and see the opportunities that are there for them.”

“For this reason, we invited the local government leaders including gup, mangmi and tshogpa to attend the workshop,” said the director. “These leaders are the immediate link to the community and its people. We seek collaborations from the communities and local leaders to help us spread awareness on disability.”

One of the participants, Pema Yangki from Bidung gewog, shared with participants the challenges she faced with her 15-year-old son who is intellectually impaired.

She said that her son did not talk much even when he was four years of age. “I took him to the hospital including visits to several lamas but they said it was late for them to do anything.”

At seven, she admitted her son to the school but after three years, the principal suggested the child be taken to a special facility.

In 2015, she admitted her son to Draktsho East in Kanglung, Trashigang but after his condition deteriorated, she took him back home. “As a mother it is hard for me to see my son in this condition,” she said. “My younger son inquires why is his brother different for the rest and I have no answer.”

Pema Yangki said that while she was comfortable keeping her son at Draktsho East, one of the parents took her daughter fearing that the daughter’s condition would become worse if left with other disabled children at the centre.

Kanglung gup, Kinzang Dorji, said that until now majority of the people were of the belief that disabilities were associated with karma.

“We had got this wrong all along. It is not karma but the negligence and carelessness of the parents during pregnancy time that leads to such disabilities,” he said. “As a leader we can do much better in the community to curb such incidences in the future.”

The gup, who is also the chairperson of the dzongkhag tshogdu (DT), said that he would like to propose in the upcoming DT that each gewog collected Nu 10,000 from the gewog budget and donate it to Draktsho East.

“So far the gewog and dzongkhag have not contributed in any form to the center and after learning their difficulties and challenges, its time we take the initiative,” said the gup. “Majority of the children at the center is from our dzongkhag. Even if it helps a single student, we have to make the effort.”

The gup also said that another proposal to conduct a session on the importance of maternal and child health during meetings in respective gewogs would also be proposed in the DT. “We have to encourage our mothers in the villages to avail health services and to make sure they deliver the babies in hospitals.”

Lack of financial support remains one of the biggest challenges for Draktsho today. Rigzin Padma Tshogyal said that with the increasing enrolment rates at the two centers in Thimphu and Trashigang, there was a pressure on the existing facilities and space.

Draktsho generates its own funds and also receives donations from local and international donors.

The awareness programme is being conducted for the first time and expects to cover remaining five dzongkhags by the end of the year.

Younten Tshedup  | Trashigang