(Founder President, BH Foundation)
(Published in the KTM Post on November 10, 2015)
Just imagine, for a second, when the ability to move your hands and legs freely – the most precious gift bestowed by nature on human body – gets robbed suddenly making you dependent on wheelchair or crutches, and in the worst case bed-ridden for the rest of your life. Can you still see the survival of your life’s colorful dreams? Now imagine what it takes for that wheel-chaired you to lead a dignified, fulfilling, and inspirational life.
Every year, thousands of spinal-cord-injured are compelled to face this in reality due to man-made accidents or natural disasters. A spinal-cord injury blocks communication between the brain and the rest of the body—partially or completely paralyzing the body’s whole host of muscular and nerve functions. The National Federation of Disabled, Nepal (NFDN) has thus categorized spinal injury as Disability Class ‘A’ among other disabilities as visually impaired, hearing & speech impaired, mobility impaired and mentally retarded.
A spinal-cord-injured needs much more than a wheel-chair. Physiotherapy treatment and medical stabilization for rehabilitation, psychological counseling for motivation, vocational training that helps find a job. Wheelchair-friendly public facilities, and our transformed mindset that treats the differently-abled not with pity, but embraces them in the society with love and respect.
Challenges faced by them are enormous. Gayatri Dahal, the president of NSCISA (Nepal Spinal Cord Injury Sports Association) and social worker who is bound to wheel-chair since the past 30 years of her life, puts it this way- “We, the spinal injured, are like small babies because our daily life cannot run without a volunteer by our side, our legs are impaired, our bladder and bowel movement are not under our control. Especially due to this we are considered burden by our own family members, and it is not unnatural to have the suicidal thoughts as a last resort to all our problems. The spinal injured are highly vulnerable to urinary tract infection, and have high risk of dying from depression, inception and bed sores.”
So, where do we stand in addressing their basic needs?
To start with, we do have a Swiss-NGOs-funded Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre (SIRC) in Banepa’s Saanga, which was inaugurated in April 2002 by Sir Edmund Hillary. The Centre rehabilitates the patients by physical and emotional healings, conducts psychological counseling to boost their morale and resolve to rehabilitate, and provides vocational training needed to find job and to reintegrate and restructure their lives.
While the the physical rehabilitation’s importance is obvious, the role of counseling experts is vital in installing and driving forward the patients’ hope. A fellow spinal-injured is best positioned to lead others in the path of hope, because their peers’ life-examples and experiences have power to fuel and motivate them. Artificial-legged Thomas Whittaker climbed the Mt. Everest in 1998 and so did Erik Weihemmayer in 2001 despite being blind.
In Nepal, a team of 9 such spinal injured wheel-chaired counselors have taken an initiative in that direction. In a desperate attempt to prove their enormous passion for life and sports, these peer counselors have established Nepal Spinal Cord Injury Sports Association (NSCISA) in 2009 and started running a series of sport activities in collaboration with Danish Sports Organization for the Disabled. The Association became the first-of-its-kind organization to introduce wheelchair basketball, para swimming, and wheelchair cricket in Nepal.
In 2014, the Association’s activities went beyond the national boarder, when it participated in the international wheelchair basketball tournament in Bangladesh. This year, the Association hosted in Kathmandu the first ever international wheelchair cricket series between Nepal and Pakistan.
If we are to know more about the spinal-injured, nothing compares to meeting and associating them in person. This is so, at least in my case. Three years ago, when I first visited the SIRC in Saanga, I found myself in a world that I had never known before. Despite themselves being victims of unfortunate accidents, struggles, and sufferings, the spinal injured had divine gifts to offer: their heart-winning smiles. I could see in their innocent eyes the love for and hope in life, despite the devastating new realities that they were compelled to face. I salute the spirit of these extraordinary people.
In the days that followed, I made repeated visits to them. I started inviting them as special guests in my solo-painting exhibitions in Nepal Art Council Babarmahal, literary ceremonies, social gatherings, and even to play “Dheusi-Bhailo’ during Deepawali in my yard. In no time, my intimacy and love to them grew to such an extent that the spinal-injured became among my best friends.
That friendship proved crucial in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake when we joined hands in the pious mission for these earthquake victims.
On 13th June 2015, we coordinated and organized the Earthquake-Refreshment Wheelchair Basketball Tournament to the wheel-chair bound with the aim to provide them physical and mental refreshment and also to raise awareness of sports among the disabled. The following day, we organized a refreshment programme to all the spinal-injured patients undergoing treatment in SIRC, where the patients had almost doubled following the two great quakes. We are thankful to German Nepal Friendship Association (GNFA) for sponsoring these events.
To assist in their emotional healing, we engaged them in creative art and counseling. Involving a group of artists, we organized an art therapy to the earthquake-traumatized differently-abled children in SOS Village in Jorpati and Disabled Rehabilitation Centre (DRC) in Gokarna. We counseled the spinal-injured victims from the earthquake in Jorpati’s Nepal Orthopedic Hospital.
As every human has the right to live, love, marry, and reproduce, there is no valid reason why the differently-abled should be deprived of these rights. There should be no hindrance in their path of love, marriage, and family building. It is high time we, as a society, provide them helping hands.
We have long way to go in developing disabled-friendly infrastructures: public toilets, hospitals, educational institutions, office buildings, recreational and entertainment facilities, historical monuments, temples and pagodas. Inauguration of Khagendra Disabled-Accessible Road in Jorpati on 8th September 2015 proves that we can do it.
Differently-abled can not only stand on their own, but also are capable of leading the entire society, if given the right opportunities. Stephan Hawking—one of the greatest scientists and physicists of the 21st century—is a living legend, despite being physically-challenged and bound to wheel-chair. Jhamak Ghimire—born victim of cerebral palsy—has inspired the world through her literary writings.
Efforts at individual and organization levels have been and will remain crucial in rehabilitating and integrating the physically-challenged with the society. But the state must lead the effort by systematically studying the issue, formulating related policies, promulgating acts, and developing specialized institutes and public facilities for the differently-abled.