Objective :
To involve the model of inclusive education of preschoolers with disability.
The Helping Hands project was initiated in May 2004 to provide early intervention and inclusive education for preschoolers with disabilities. The project worked in partnerships with 3 preschools (Nisha’s Play School, Alto Torda; Chubby Cheeks, Alto Porvorim & Holy Cross Nursery, Bastora); while 3 others were also supported (Lemon Tree, Taleigao; Rainbow Nursery, Duler & Little Penguins, Panaji).
During the first year of the project the objectives were as follows:
  1. To promote inclusion for children with disabilities in partnership with regular pre-schools and to understand how a child with disabilities could experience education as a positive force for change in this pre-school structure.
  1. To create awareness in schools about various disabilities, learning difficulties and behavior problems that pre-school children face.
  1. To develop individualized educational plans for children with special needs, based on the regular school curriculum.
  1. To provide care and training to preschool children with disabilities and their families at Diuli Day-care Centre at Sangath, preparing them for inclusion.
  1. To train parents and family members to care for the developmental needs of their children.
During the course of the first year, 20 children with various disabilities (autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, visual deficit and mental retardation) were trained at the centre.

At the end of the first year, due to structural changes within Sangath, a decision to close Diuli, the day-care centre was taken. Though this service had been filling a huge gap in provision of education for young children with special needs, it had been doing this in a segregated setting.

Since Sangath was committed to inclusion, it seemed rather inappropriate to conduct the activities of Diuli outside a regular preschool. The aim was to transition our Day Care attenders into regular nurseries. Out of 10 children attending Diuli at the time of closure, eight children had been admitted in regular preschools. One child was too young to attend the preschool and one child received admission into a special school due to financial constraints. The closure of Diuli had been an impetus such that a majority of the children “graduated??? into an inclusive preschool educational setting.

During the second year the program evolved to work with children from the more underprivileged sections of society. Our approach was to evolve a model to integrate children with disabilities within the existing Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) of the Government, in partnership with anganwadis (government pre-schools). Under the ICDS scheme, anganwadis have been set up by the government to provide children (3-6 yrs.) with a non-formal education; in addition they provide them midday meals and offer essential health programs.

The scheme has a wide network with one anganwadi per population of 1000 and one anganwadi worker (community health worker) is available to implement women and child health programs in the community. The project was placed in the village of Taleigao in Tiswadi taluka.

Introducing the concept of inclusive education to anganwadi workers was a challenging but stimulating task. Through training and active networking, we identified and worked with 14 children with disabilities who were not accessing any educational services.

A resource room was commenced in the area where children were assessed. A special educator with the help of four assistant teachers implemented individual educational programs for the children with a range of disabilities. While some children attended the entire program in the resource room, others had to be provided home programs which were regularly monitored by the special educators.

A few of the children were gradually placed in the anganwadis for two days a week under the supervision of the assistant teachers.

At the end of ’year two’ the Helping Hands project had benefitted 14 children in the local community, ten of whom attended the resource centre and four were provided with a home programme. With the closure of the project all these children who had been outside the educational system were integrated into local anganwadis.

One of the main objectives had also been to increase awareness of disabilities at the community health worker level, hence a resource manual “AADHAR- supporting children with special needs???, was prepared. The manual is directed at the anganwadi worker to help her identify children with special needs, undertake preliminary assessments and refer them for further assessment and treatment if required. The Minister of Women and Child expressed interest in collaborating with Sangath to expand our efforts to other parts of Goa.