We often condemn each other with such expressions. But have you ever met any mentally retarded person in real life. I recently got a chance to visit Karachi Vocational Training Centre -– an institute for the rehabilitation and training of the mentally handicapped. Contrary to my assumption, I found them much more energetic and optimistic than many of us.
Farrukh Sultan is one of the students of KVTC who instantly attracted my attention due to his elegant manners and excellent English. Apart from his swollen throat, he seemed quite normal. The only son of his family, Farrukh was born with a mental disability. His childhood was spent in England. After returning to Pakistan, he joined the KVTC where he has leaned many skills including candle making, block printing and gardening. An excellent craftsman and singer, Farrukh works at Mr. Burger in the evening. His passion is sports especially swimming and he has a large circle of friends, including both boys and girls. Though, he is not complaining, he doesn’t seem to be happy with the native climate and attitude of people. He says. “Some of my customers have a major attitude problem. But I can handle them easily since I am trained to control my nerves.” Farrukh is aware of his mental disability. He believes that America is the better place for people like him and he wants to settle down there after marrying an American girl.
Sarwat Zaheer, with her shrunk frame and big face, smiled at me warmly. She can’t dress and comb herself due to her extremely short limbs. She wants to live an independent life and is working as an office secretary in KVTC as a paid employee. Belonging to a middle class family, Sarwat has passed six classes from Al-Shifa school. After that she had to quit her studies due to absence of any school for special children. According to Sarwat, she enjoys the time she spends at KVTC. She loves reading Naunehal, a children’s magazine, and sings when she is alone. She says, “Sometimes I feel depressed and lonely. But I face no problems in interaction with normal people.”
Zehra Hasan, a young friendly girl, loves to talk and socialize. Despite serious difficulty in speech, she conveyed that she is studying to become a doctor. Besides, she also helps her mother in her beauty parlour business and in household chores.“I do excellent facial. manicure and pedicure, Reading newspaper, listening to music and making friends are my pastime activities. And all the students and teachers in KVTC are my friends,” she added.
Naeem, a frail young boy in the centre, is running an ice cream parlour in Defence where he himself produces more than thirteen flavours and deals with a number of customers regularly.
Adil is working as a salesman in a handicrafts’ showroom in Sadar. He is a good athlete and has won a medal in the Special Olympics. But it is the melodious beat of his tabla that makes him popular among his friends.
Habiba, a shy and silent girl, is a refined artist and an excellent cook. Her hand embroidery samples were exquisite.
These and many other mentally challenged people, who are trained and groomed at the Karachi Vocational Training Centre, have proved that special people can learn trades, hold jobs, earn livelihood and become useful members of the society. Most of them were brought to the centre in a pathetic condition. They were extremely violent, pampered and alienated. But with special care, proper training and therapy, they have surprised even their own parents and families.
According to the World Health Organization report, more than three percent of the total world population suffers from mental retardation. This figure may be higher for Pakistan. Only in Karachi, there are more than 300,000 mentally handicapped people. Out of them only 12,00 to 15,00 are attending any training and development centre. The rest are left at the mercy of their fate and sometimes at faith healers (pirs, faqirs, and Mazars). The popular approach is that the mentally handicapped people are a curse or punishment for the family from the Almighty. Thus, they are treated as a liability, keeping isolated and forbidden as a mark of shame and disgust for their families.
This negative attitude and ignorance about mental health care inhibit the tapping of the potentials of the mentally challenged people and further aggravate their trauma.Highlighting the major causes of mental retardation in Pakistan, Dr Inam-ur-Rehman, a psychiatrist at the KVTC said that lack of proper ante-natal care, genetic counselling, misuse of medicines, diagnostic techniques and physical injury during pregnancy and multiple inter-family marriages are some of the common reasons of mental illnesses. He believes that most of them can be avoided with basic health education and facilities.
Karachi Vocational training Centre performs a peerless role in rehabilitation of the mentally handicapped in the country. Since its inception in 1991, ninety four of its students have been placed on various jobs. Two of them are now happily married and sixty five individuals, who can not adjust in the open market, are working in its Sheltered Workshop.
According to this programme, a variety of work is taken from different shops and factories on contract basis for KVTC students. They perform these jobs under the supervision of their teachers and are properly paid for their labour.
The centre has designed several training programmes for its students according to their individual needs, abilities and market requirements. Special focus is given to the physical capacities, psycho motor and interpersonal skills of the patients leading to their full-fledge participation in all phases of community life.
Besides, several exhibitions, fairs and activities are arranged to display and sale the students’ products in the public. KVTC people have also participated in Special Olympics at national and international levels and won many medals.
Due to its limited capacity, currently ninety five students are enrolled in the centre. However, it is unable to cope up with the increasing training needs of the mentally handicapped population in Karachi. It is, thus, planning to extend its field of activity and needs active public support and funds.
We should join hands with these dedicated people and help them in any possible way, Remember! these special people do not need our hollow sympathies. They deserve affection, attention and assistance to become self-sustaining and useful members of the society. They should be given an equal opportunity to learn and develop according to their abilities and live a happy life like anyone else.