“You are only as weak as you feel or as strong as you feel” is a popular saying we have often heard. A true manifestation of this can be seen at a vocational training facility in Lahore.
Here a bunch of determined individuals challenged by disabilities of different types-categorised as mild to severe-are getting vocational training to build their lives. Instead of being dependent on others, they are striving to contribute to the well-being of their families, society and economy as well.
The facility, located in Shadman, Lahore, is run by the Lahore Businessmen Association for Rehabilitation of the Disabled (LABARD). This training centre offers vocational skills exclusively to the people with disabilities. The association mainly serves as a bridge between disabled persons and employers and collaborates with the Lahore Chamber of Commerce & Industry (LCCI).
Functioning under its dedicated founder cum honorary president Mohammad Pervaiz Malik, the employment cell of the association has so far succeeded in finding jobs for 4000 plus disabled personnel in both private and public sectors, says Mohammad Naeem Anwar, Executive Coordinator LABARD, in a voice full of contentment.
This contentment, he explains, does not come from the numbers achieved or mere fulfilment of some job requirements. “It’s an unmatchable feeling. You can have it only once you have done something good for the mankind.
” The LABARD training centre offers courses in industrial and domestic stitching, professional cooking, book binding and photocopying, mobile phone repairing, computer literacy, graphic designing and so on.
Currently, it is managing training courses with the support of international donors, the European Union (EU), the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Federal Republic of Germany, through the TVET Reform Support Programme, implemented by the GIZ. The project is being supported through the Fund for Innovative Training, created under the TVET Reform Support Programme.
Muhammad Usman Zia, Principal of the training centre, elaborates that they opt for disciplines where employability is high. Curriculum development, he says, is an ongoing process which has to be in line with the changing work patterns in the job market.
The centre enrols students in different courses and the selection depends on the nature and severity. Those with one-limb impairments can learn industrial stitching, intellectually challenged can fit into bookbinding and photocopying courses, hearing impaired and speech impaired are trained to operate computers for professional purposes, and the blind can learn computer with the help of JAWS-an assistive software which uses audio output for communication.
The principal says when these trainees join the centre, they hardly have any will power, motivation or confidence. They feel depressed due to societal attitudes towards them and the feeling that are a burden on the others. “Our first task is to infuse confidence in them and build their self esteem. “The realization that they are as useful to the society as anybody else is a must to make things going.”
LABARD also provides medical treatment, hearing aids, tricycles, wheelchairs and interest-free loans to the disabled. To ensure that trainees do not drop out from courses, they are given wheelchairs etc once they have shown seriousness in pursuing them, says Naeem.
He is all praise of the LCCI members who have always accepted their passed out trainees with an open heart and given them jobs in their business concerns. Another positive development, he says, is that organizations such as Telenor Pakistan, Standard Chartered and KFC are employing disabled people and taking pride in doing so. “They are setting examples which everyone should follow.”
Bringing disabled to the centre every day and sending them back home in the evening is no easy task. The centre provides free transport and Rs 2,000 stipend to the trainees to make things easier for them. There are vans, rickshaws and cars hired by the centre to do this service.
For the ongoing programme, a significant share of the financial spending comes from TVET Reform Support Programme’s Fund for Innovative Training, which joined hands with LABARD to contribute to this noble cause.
Zeeshan Ahmed Iqbal is a computer instructor at the center. He takes a class of 25 students. He is quite confident that job finding will not be a big issue for his students.
The reason is simple; the disabled remain focused on their work and avoid absenteeism. When at workplace, they find themselves highly useful to the society and in the mainstream. The feelings are totally opposite when they are at home.
Another finding which Zeeshan shares with excitement is that the regular use of keyboard by patients of muscular dystrophy does help a lot in their recovery. “What else can you ask for from God?” he expresses with a gleam of gratitude in his eyes.
Sana Ullah Shakir is a hearing impaired intern enrolled in Adobe Photoshop course. He has learnt fast and his clientele is expanding fast. Gleefully, he extends his hand to pass on his visiting card and the brochures he has himself designed to his prospective clients.
Apart from sign language, Sana Ullah relies on text messages and emails to communicate with others. He is a well known personality at Nisbat Road, Lahore-the traditional market for the arts and trades he indulges in.
The centre gives extraordinary importance to the emotional well being of the trainees. Shabana Afshan, a clinical psychologist with LABARD for the last four years, involves herself with the trainees on case to case basis. Each one of them is different and must be handled differently, she says adding: “though self esteem is very low in almost all the cases.” She focuses on how to develop social skills, adjust in new environments after getting jobs, interact with the family and cope courageously with the negative behaviours of the society towards the disabled.
Shabana explains the training centre does not deal with the trainees in isolation. “We try our best to get every available piece of information about them. This helps us in devising a customized training and rehabilitation plan for them.” Apart from personal details such as name and parentage, the information required at the time of induction includes nature of disability, nature of mobility aid they are using, home environment, ability to travel alone, relationship with parents and siblings, medical history, therapies and medications already availed, behavioural problems, past employment if any, medical complaints at the time of birth, fears, neurotic traits, allergies and so on.