Destination: Making a difference through love and care

Guwahati, March 1 (IANS) Ten years ago she had to run from pillar to post for getting her autistic child admitted to a school in Guwahati. While most turned her down, only a few responded – but with a cold shoulder.

She then made up her mind that no mother should suffer the way she did and started Destination, a home for children with special needs. Beginning in 2005 with one inmate, Destination has, over the years, grown to accommodate 75 children with special needs so far and evolved as a trusted destination for parents having children with special needs.

“My son Rishi, who was suffering from cerebral palsy and autism, was just 12 years old when we came to know that his condition is not going to improve and that he will need special care for his entire life.

We have already consulted different doctors across the country and the reply was the same from everywhere. However, back in Guwahati when I took him to the schools for admission, most of them not only refused admission as he is a child with special needs but even their response was not good,” said Rupa Hazarika, who started the novel “Destination” initiative in 2005 to shelter, education and care for children with special needs.

“Rishi was the first inmate of Destination. We started this residential facility in June 2005 and in the first year itself got about 20 inmates. Now we have 75 inmates and Destination has become the most trusted place for parents like me. Even now, we are getting lots of requests from parents to admit their children but due to space constraints we have not been able to extend our seats,” the 42-year- old Hazarika told IANS.

Hazaika, who lost her husband in 2009, later completed a Diploma in Special Education, learning more about the care to be provided to these children and trained up all her staff so that best of the care can be given to the children.

Although initially started as a centre for children with special needs, Hazarika soon had to admit adults.

“Till we started Destination, there was no such organization or shelter home for these children. Actually, people were not much aware about children with special needs. There is a general tendency to neglect them often terming them mentally retarded.

“Initially, we started this as a school for these children but later we registered it as a NGO,” Hazarika said, adding that Destination, run with assistance by the Assam government’s social welfare department, also gets funds from the central government and donations from well-wishers and the corporate sector.

The residents are both males and females and they are aged between four and 70 years. “An inmate died recently at the age of 80. The number of minors is 41. The inmates include some who were ditched and dumped by their families. Every time the police here come across a mentally-challenged without an address, they take him or her to Destination,” Hazarika said, adding that the number of inmates has been going up and it is a matter of worry as they cannot keep more people in the same complex.

“A few years ago, the Assam government had selected 15 NGOs like us to shelter these children and people with special needs. We were assigned the Kamrup and Morigaon districts. However, we have been writing to the government to give us some land so that we can have one more complex to house more people. However, nothing was done in this regard,” said Hazarika, who has turned her own house into Destination.

Apart from taking care and giving love to the inmates, the centre trains them in basic computer-application, paper bag-making, hankie embroidery, envelop-making, making greeting cards and the like. It has 27 staff, including special educators, caretakers and trainers. A psychiatrist periodically visits the centre and if any inmate falls sick, he or she is taken to the government-run Gauhati Medical College and Hospital.

“Not all of them can learn. We train those who are found fit for it. I spend my time with them to ensure that they are properly taken care of. We celebrate all festivals and they take part in each of them,” Rupa said.

“The children with special needs normally face discrimination at home from their parents. Most of the parents are not aware about their needs and they ignore them due to ignorance. This is the major problem,” Hazarika noted.

“I have started the journey in 2005 and I have been learning about these children since then. It’s really great to live a life with them and on each of them I see my son,” Hazarika concluded.

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