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By Girish Santiago, S.J.
Mar 7th, 2016

The North Gujarat Mission (India) is celebrating fifty years (in 2015) since the Jesuit missionaries had their humble beginning in this region.

Now it has become a centre well-known for its ongoing experiments on inculturation of the Gospel.

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Photo: Parents are committed to providing education in the family for their children with mental difficulties. One of the purposes of the so-called “inclusive-education” is, precisely, to train the disabled. 

 

The North Gujarat Mission is celebrating its Golden Jubilee. It is exactly 50 years since we, the Jesuit Missionaries of this region, had our humble beginnings. First and foremost, we are grateful to God for His abundant blessings, by which, we firmly believe, we got started. It was God who brought us to this land of Camels and it is He who continually labours with us to establish His reign here and now in this region. While praising God for His marvellous works, let us see in particular how this God, the God of the anawim, has enabled especially the missionaries of the Kadi-Kalol Jesuit community to think out of the box and to accompany the poor and marginalized. The Unteshwari Parish of the Gandhinagar Archdiocese has become a Marian hillock centre well-known for its ongoing experiments on inculturation.

Till 1998, the Jesuit missionaries, and their committed collaborators (sisters, local catechists and lay leaders) concentrated their direct evangelical works mainly within the Mission Mandate’s exclusive caste-based groups of our Indian society in 19 villages of Kadi block. It was in 1998, six months after my ordination, that I was sent as a young Pastor to Unteshwari and face the prevailing situation where I had to live alone and lead the Mission to a greener pasture. However, from the moment of my arrival, I have never felt alone because I have always experienced God’s supportive hands, in spite of an attempted external persecution.

2015-10-11Photo: The abled boy lending his hand to support his disabled friend.

With a clear vision, and with our local Catholic lay companion Mr Chhanabhai K. Raval, I went about visiting and doing good to the already existing mission contacts. We encountered many abandoned and depressed disabled children, adolescents and adults. The mere presence of such challenged persons was a challenge to my priestly call. In order to respond creatively to the pathetic situations and to celebrate the Jubilee Year 2000 in a meaningful way, with the encouraging words of the then Ahmedabad Bishop and the approval of the Jesuit Provincial, we went beyond our already existing mission contacts, in search of the disabled persons. We crossed our borders with a single-minded frontier outlook. We felt that we needed to make the disabled walk, see, hear, speak and understand. Thus, we surveyed all the Schools of the entire 119 villages of our Kadi block.

The Jubilee Year 2000 became the year of special grace for Unteshwari, therefore, with the precious innovative expansion of our mission service, especially to the vulnerable disabled persons, the privileged members of God’s family!

We traced out the disabled children, both boys and girls, of all categories. They were seen as non-persons by our superiority complex minded human society. We systematically organized them to get proper medical certificates from the civil hospitals. Then we classified them as per the medical model: OH – Orthopaedically Handicapped; VI – Visually Impaired; HI – Hearing Impaired; DD – Deaf and Dumb; MR – Mentally Retarded, CP – Cerebral Palsy and MD – Multiple Disabled. With that, a proposal was prepared and was submitted to the cell of Inclusive Education for Disabled Children, a programme run by the Central Government’s department of Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), through the supervision of the Gujarat Government’s Council for Education and Research Training. The proposal was accepted and was approved in 2000 to serve such children, especially in their education.

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Meanwhile we applied and acquired the certificate of registration under Section 52 of The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and full Participation) Act 1995 from the Social Defence Office of the Gujarat government to work for and with such disabled persons.

2015-10-12In the photos: a) The joy of  boys (from financially disadvantaged backgrounds) who have succeeded in obtaining diplomas from their school.  b) A group of operators with the ambulance available to the disabled people who may need it. 

From 2000, the motto of our wider and barrier free mission within our New Evangelization process has been – enable the disabled. The two objectives of such an inclusive mission are: 1. To integrate and include the persons with disabilities with general community at all levels as equal partners. 2. To prepare them for normal growth and to enable them to face life with courage and confidence.

Today, such an Inclusive Educational programme is a well planned, executed, monitored and evaluated out-reach programme of MHRD, under the section of education in all over India. But Gujarat is one of the few States which systematically implements the programme through the Government and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Today, in Gujarat there are Government and 56 NGOs who directly render their such inclusive education for all services to 110,883 disabled students of all categories. We are one of them and the only one Christian Faith Based Organization which works as a leaven in the ministry of enabling and ennobling the disabled. Humbly we say that we are a well respected and recognized organization within and outside India.

The Inclusive Educational programme of ours aims at incorporating the family-based physically and mentally challenged children, especially the mild and moderate ones into the common schools of the villages and towns. It very much insists on creating a healthy environment and on offering a space for their integral and inclusive growth in the midst of their other non-disabled children. The school staff, students and parents are encouraged to recognize the precious nature of each child and accompany him/her in his/her slow and steady learning and other developmental processes.

Through this Inclusive Educational programme, each disabled child’s study materials, uniform, aids and appliances like walking stick, hearing aid, crutches, callipers, tricycle, brain developmental kit, and the like, are aptly provided by us, with the received financial assistance from the Government. The programme offers well trained visiting Special Teachers to enable, educate, empower, employ and enhance the challenged children in their class and out of class rooms; in their family and neighbourhood environments. For the severely disabled persons the escort allowance, reader allowance for the blind and salary for the special teachers are paid regularly. Each child is individually attended to and accompanied well in his/her learning and in doing by the entire dedicated collaborative team members of our organization.

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Photo:The direct involvement of the Director to enable the disabled.

In order to implement well such an Inclusive Education programme, we do have the local, national and international inter-NGO communications and activities as part of our organized net-working system. Locally and globally we do have a stand as a prophetic voice of such ‘voiceless’! The parents, management of the schools and the village councils are highly motivated by us to accompany their sons and daughters and to make them differently-abled in their human society. They are encouraged more to see the strengths than the weaknesses of their beloved ones. This has created a new outlook where the disabled persons joyfully participate in the Gujarat government sponsored sports and other cultural activities as Special Khel Mahakumbh. Every year, on 3rd  December, the feast of St Francis Xavier, we celebrate World Disabled Day with the disabled and non-disabled to make everybody realize that each one is a true image and likeness of God!

After these many years, in Gujarat, we are the first one to make in 2012 the Gujarati New Testament of the Catholic Bible in Braille for the blind. The blind persons can now themselves ‘see’, read independently and encounter disabled-friendly Jesus of Nazareth!

As a life-long formative training, we campaign regularly for the implementation of the following facilities: 1) To remove physical barriers posed by stairs, doorways, toilets, water faucets, and other architectural aspects imperative to accessing facilities in every private and public places. 2) To remove the barriers of the teaching system, by providing facilities for accessing information related to the curriculum, by the use of modern technology like computers using specialized software and by providing awareness, sensitivity and solutions for teachers, parents and others. 3) To remove the barriers of the examination system by providing means of free and fair evaluation of the student’s knowledge irrespective of his/her sensory and physical status.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPhoto: Parents and children take part in an orientation programme. 

Besides Inclusive Education, we take special interest in the wholistic and holistic Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) programme for disabled persons within and beyond our mission territory especially in health, education, social, livelihood, employment, empowerment and spiritual sectors. Children are medically treated. Young boys and girls are motivated to get trained in some vocational courses and assisted initially to stand on their own feet. Adults and Aged are encouraged and assisted to run income-generating projects. Also, we freely offer our services to the disabled clergy and religious as per the request and requirement. Indeed it is worth recognizing and serving all types and all categories of the disabled persons without counting the cost! The Patron of our inclusive mission is none other than Our Founder Father Ignatius of Loyola, physically ‘lame’ yet ‘differently-abled’! In fact, even today his Spiritual Fire within us compels us to educate and to make a difference in the lives of the disabled! Ours is a movement from Unteshwari to move forward towards an abode of inclusion – Sammilitalayam, the gained new name of our centre.

The article is available to read in Spanish and French