[We Care, We Share] Inspiring story: Safeguarding the most vulnerable

We Care, We Share

UN and JICA Bhutan’s joint initiative – Resilience tools for COVID-19

Safeguarding the most vulnerable

It has been almost a year since the Service Center run by Ability Bhutan Society (ABS) last opened to face to face lessons. Under normal circumstances, the Service Center would accommodate children with disabilities during the day and teach them basic communication skills. However, with challenges in following safety protocols and health cautions by their clients, ABS prepared for an indefinite year ahead and the in-person center visits were called off.  

“When the lockdown was declared in August last year, we developed a contingency plan to continue our services like before in the best way we could. A car was arranged to deliver essential items to our clients during the lockdown. We realized that online communication and learning for our clients was not at all helpful. We’ve had experiences where children would not wear facemasks at all, and it was difficult for them to understand about the virus so we had to carefully plan our approach. ABS primarily cater to children with intellectual disabilities who do not necessarily have physical disabilities. Our team focuses on the development of communication or daily skills and behavioral management of our clients,” said Ugyen Wangchuk, Executive Director at ABS.

COVID-19 has greatly affected the lives of many people around the world. However, the restrictions have only further marginalized persons with disabilities and the pandemic is having a disproportionate impact on this group. There are currently thirty-five children enrolled at the ABS Service Center and there are four social workers, six volunteers and six staff working at ABS. With the development of the contingency plan, Home Visits by social workers were initiated to assist families and caregivers in engaging with their children.     

“At such a time, parents and caregivers play the most important role in the development of their child. Even before the pandemic, we always emphasized and encouraged one family member or caregiver to be present with the child at our center. These children are only with us during the day and are at home most of the time. So, we take a sustainable approach where we try to teach the parents and caregivers on how to meaningfully engage and understand the needs of the children. At the moment, we have online chat groups where we talk with the parents and caregivers on a weekly basis and set weekly goals for the child. We shared a communication booklet with them that outlines how they can teach and communicate,” said Ugyen.

 “We always remind the parents and caregivers to avoid violence at all times. With extended lockdowns, the child may behave restlessly, and it can be frustrating for those at home to deal with, but that’s when the child needs the most care and attention,” added Ugyen.

ABS has an outreach group in Punakha, Chhukha, Sarpang, Dagana and Tashigang where basic services to persons with disabilities are readily provided. Sensitization and advocacy in Bhutan around hidden disabilities are becoming more common. People usually only see physical disabilities when it comes to disability in general, so recognising these unseen forms of disabilities and identifying less obvious needs, remains a challenge.

“Advocacy on disability must take shape both at the grassroots level and the policy level. Villages and local communities must understand the existence of these disabilities, and we are trying to advocate as much as possible. We are already receiving enormous support, and we hope to expand our services and do more than what we are currently able to do,” said Ugyen

Although we are still adapting to the new norms of this pandemic, we must not forget to safeguard and protect those that are most vulnerable.

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