Aaina is an organisation based out of Bhubaneswar that was founded in 1998 to support socially ostracized members of the society and provide them with a space to address their grievances. Sneha Mishra and four other members, who were working in different fields but had a joint passion to help vulnerable sections of the societies like women with disabilities, founded it.
Over the past 18 years it has done extensive social service especially in the area of empowering people with disabilities (both physical and intellectual) and facilitating them to become self-reliant. Geetika Chandra, who joined the organisation six years ago as a development professional spoke to The Better India about how Aaina works.
She told us that the core principle of the organisation is to pinpoint to areas where disabled people were not being included in development schemes and to address them.
She says, “During the 2011 census organised by the State Government in Odisha, we realised that a lot of people with disabilities (PWD) were left out because certain parametres were missing in the questionnaire. After organising the campaign ‘Count Us In’ with the support of the local panchayats, we managed to raise the number of questions from 9 to 15. Only if the official figures are correct can we start providing appropriate facilities to an adequate number of people.”
But it is not just essential that PWD are recognised as having special needs, but also that are mainstreamed through intervention programmes pretty early in their life.
One project by Aaina that strives to do so is the Amo Vidyalaya. Geetika said, “Amo Vidyalaya is a special integration school that was founded in 1999. The school started with twelve students but over the years it has managed to impart special education to 60 students everyday. With the support of the Director of Social Welfare, Dept. of Women and Child Development and the Government of Odisha, we managed to include children from all parts of Barang, including dispersed tribal villages. The primary medium of instruction is through creative arts and it is a day school.”
When asked why the school did not provide housing to children with special needs, Geetika told us that the intention behind opening a day school is to encourage the students to lead a normal life and to not be cut-off from the rest of the world.
Apart from creating a community where children with special needs are acknowledged and taken care of, Aaina also organises vocational training to ensure that they can be independent regardless of the organisations’ support.
Students as well as parents are given training in candle making, incense making, tailoring and doormat making by skilled professionals. The final products are later put up for display in exhibitions across Odisha.
This organisation also encourages Self-Help Groups (SHGs) to contribute actively to the society in whichever way they can. One of their SHGs that is lead by a 45-year-old disabled woman began making doormats from special leaves that grow in forests nearby. By selling these durable mats to people, the team of ten orthopaedically challenged women managed to secure an income of Rs 6000- Rs 7000 per month.
Aaina organises numerous awareness programs in various municipalities, but it also understands the importance of film as a mass media tool to sensitise the general public about obstacles that PWD face everyday.
The Aaina team presents a 2-day film festival with special emphasis on short documentaries about PWD called ‘We Care’ annually. This festival is immensely popular among students, PWDs, film critics, activists/social workers and government officials. Panel discussions on subjects like “Autism and Management and “Women with Disability” are also arranged after the screening. Special emphasis is given to local filmmakers, some of who have even won national awards for the films screened at the festival.
For years on an end, Aaina has been working to include children with special needs to school through “capacity building training of special educators” and “creation of adaptive program material”, which includes using braille books for visually impaired students. Through their ‘Towards Inclusion’ project they intend to raise funds so that disabled children can get access to facilities that will make them a part of the mainstream society. Geetika says, “Through inclusion of children with disability, Aaina envisages an inclusive society where children with disability have equal access to education and live a life with dignity.”
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