Program For Disabled Children Cut By Half For Lack Of Funds

2008-12-10 19:19:47
When two Little Sisters of Jesus nuns established six centers for children with disabilities more than a decade ago in Pakistan, they did not think lack of money would close them down. "I request you to think generously about the children we are serving. They need your time and attention," Sister Cecilia told 200 people on Dec. 3 at a function marking International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The program in Khanewal district, about 400 kilometers south of Islamabad, included a puppet show, speeches, tableaus and singing by handicapped children. The performers were mainly from rehabilitation centers under the Sada-e-Umeed (call of hope) organization for children with physical disabilities. Sister Cecilia, a Belgian missioner, and Pakistani Sister Zeenat started the project in 1995 and handed it over to laypeople after 10 years. A Catholic priest and nun currently sit on its board of directors. The organization runs a primary school and three centers for handicapped children in this Punjab province district. "The primary school was formed for special children, dropouts, overage [youths] and slow learners. The purpose was to give them self-confidence and prevent bullying by ´normal´ children," explained Asia Yaqoob, principal of the Sada-e-Umeed primary school. Yaqoob, 23, had polio as a child and uses crutches to get around. She is one of two former Sada-e-Umeed students who proceeded to graduate from college. Three of the original six centers had to shut down in 2007 for lack of funds, says Emmanuel Samuel, executive director of the organization. The other three stayed open but had to close their residential facilities and now serve 150 children and youths up to the age of 24, he told UCA News. They provide rehabilitation services and basic skills training for youngsters who are not able to attend the school. Samuel lamented that the local Catholic Church does not assist them, even after the U.S. bishops´ Catholic Relief Services stopped assistance in 2005. The centers are housed in rented buildings and depend on donations from local doctors and foreign benefactors, but come up short. "Some trained workers resigned after not getting paid for a year," Samuel said. He also said the centers had to stop giving the children milk at lunchtime, which has made them weaker. Each center needs at least 3,000 rupees (US$38) for rent and utilities, he explained. Additional funds are required for center workers to travel to remote villages to visit homes with disabled children and provide them physiotherapy, take them to hospitals for medical checkups and help parents cope with the situation. The two Little Sisters of Jesus nuns left to do other work and are no longer officially connected with the organization, but are helping out. "We only wanted to help the neglected children and provide them a platform," Sister Cecilia told UCA News. The nun, a nurse, has worked in Pakistan for 40 years. She has been sending letters to funding agencies abroad seeking assistance for Sada-e-Umeed. Sister Zeenat helps train staff members. "When I visited one of the centers, tears came to my eyes. Children were being taught from textbooks, just like ordinary students," she said. "We started by helping physically disabled children in villages with basic education and physiotherapy. People were so impressed with our work that they donated rooms to be used, which led to the establishment of the centers," she recalled. "This work is a vocation. Money is not the only factor." END
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