By Dasho Kunzang Wangdi
Tenth Anniversary of The Gyaltsuen & Royal Wedding
Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen Jetsun Pema Wangchuck was crowned as the Queen of Bhutan on 13th of October 2011 as the youngest queen in the world. Bhutan is now blessed with Gyalseys HRHs Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck and Jigme Ugyen Wangchuck.
On the 10-year anniversary of her service to the Bhutanese people, I most humbly seize this historic opportunity to present a brief profile of Her Majesty’s dedicated services being rendered for the wellbeing of persons living with disabilities as the Royal Patron of the Ability Bhutan Society (ABS).
The Royal Patron of ABS
For the parents and families of children with disabilities, it was a daily struggle for many to make a decision to be left alone at home or at trust under the care of untrained caregivers. ABS was conceived in 2007 to explore ways and means as to how families can provide a better life for their children.
At that very critical time when the concept of an organization for helping each other was being searched, His Majesty The King answered the wishes of the families and children, to better the quality of life of individuals with disabilities. On 10th of November 2011, His Majesty was pleased to command the formation of the ABS as a society to attend to the special needs of parents of children with disabilities.
The ABS Centre was formally inaugurated by Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen, as its Royal Patron, on the auspicious date of 6th of April 2012, and as a project under the Kidu Foundation, an endowment for Royal Projects established by Their Majesties. It intends to address the wellbeing of children with moderate-to-severe disabilities primarily those children living with Autism, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy and other developmental disabilities.
Accessibility to Public Facilities & Services
Under Her Majesty’s direction and consistent education on importance of accessibility in public facilities and services, it has widened the opportunities for participation of persons with disabilities to feel included in society. In fact, the International Day of Persons with Disability was observed in the year 2016 at Changlimithang with Her Majesty as the Chief Guest, where the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement released guidelines in designing and construction of all public structures to be accessible. Thimphu Thromde made a pledge to improve the accessibility of public infrastructures and facilities to make them disability friendly and inclusive. Accessibility at the Centenary Park at Changlimithang was inaugurated as well.
Fund Raising Events
For the sustainability of operation of the Society, funding raising and pledging activities were initiated periodically when well-wishers, corporations and individuals made ranging from one-time payment to lifelong support to support its operations during a dinner hosted by the Royal Patron and coinciding with observation of important international commemoration days.
Education on Inclusion
ABS carries out its responsibilities through provision of early intervention in two areas. ABS attempts to primarily function as a resource center. A centre where children can come in on a daily basis to avail and access the necessary services and therapies. A noteworthy achievement is the satisfaction expressed by parents availing the services as it brings improvement and success resulting in performing daily living activities at home. In order to reach children with profound diverse abilities, ABS deputes social workers to provide home based services by visiting homes or teaching them on Activities of Daily Living skills (ADLS). Simultaneously, they train the parents and caregivers to cope up with the home environment while the main aim is to help in educating the child in the least restrictive environment.
Family Empowerment Programme
Recognizing the importance of parents and family play on a daily basis, ABS conducts a monthly family empowerment forum to bring parents together to facilitate sharing their views, opinion and success stories. Professionals from abroad and within Bhutan are invited to talk on tips to help children with disabilities and counsel about on disabilities and related available interventions in the field that could help parents and caregivers in supporting their children and wards. Thereby they are empowered to provide better care to their children.
Advocacy and Awareness Programmes
ABS carries out nationwide advocacy, sensitization and awareness programmes to promote better understanding on disabilities and create a more inclusive environment for persons with disabilities in Bhutan. The programme covers issues in relation to disability, promotion of rights of persons with disabilities, Rights of children with disabilities, prevention of disability, importance of early intervention, inclusion and inclusive education at the community.
Towards this, ABS under Her Majesty’s patronage, organized observed and the International Disability days, World Autism Awareness Days: light it up blue, Down Syndrome Day, World Cerebral Palsy Day every year, International Day of persons with Disabilities. Her Majesty the Gyaltsuen personally takes active part in promoting the urgency of accessibility in public places and inclusion of persons with disabilities in the society and elimination of all form of discrimination against persons with disabilities.
The first of such is the ABS to raise awareness and advocacy within the country and internationally in association with like-minded agencies. The International Conference on Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders (ANDD) 2017 was held in Bhutan in April, 2017, in Bhutan on the theme of “developing effective and sustainable multi-sectorial programs for individuals, families and communities living with ASD and other neurodevelopmental disorders”. Her Majesty, the Gyaltsuen had graced the inaugural session along with Her Excellency, Sheikh Hasina, Honorable Prime Minister of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. The issue on employment and support for independent living besides many challenges faced in seeking and holding down jobs, by persons with ASD and NDDs was addressed.
ABS and other related agencies in the country are making every effort to overcome at the earliest possible the major challenges faced by children with disabilities such as low resource capacity; access to education and health services; and social stigma and discrimination.
ABS would wish as a result, more children go to schools and health centers to avail services, while only a negligible number are left to their fate in their villages. The accessibility to health services for persons with disabilities and means of transportation should be made more accessible and available.
The lack of awareness and acceptance of children with disabilities in the society must be minimized and services must be provided by the government and non-governmental organizations and civil society organizations promoting welfare of the children with disabilities. Any social belief that tends to deprive medical treatment also causes disability.
ABS expects the project “Social Inclusive Development for People with Disabilities in Bhutan” being implemented in five Dzongkhags in Bhutan to identify the situation and number of people with disabilities especially women and children which will promote social inclusion at all levels namely Health, Education, Livelihood and Empowerment.
An outreach project is being initiated by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), Germany and German Leprosy and TB Relief Association (DAHW), Germany as “Social Inclusive Development for People with Disabilities in Bhutan” for contribution to the development of an equal and inclusive society in Chukha, Dagana, Punakha, Sarpang and Trashigang. It has the Purpose to build capacity building and strengthening the role of community actors for building equal and inclusive society.
Given that ABS is dedicated to serve the needs of the individuals with moderate to severe disabilities, the figures may not speak of the magnitude of time and resources required in reaching out its services. The early intervention services were provided to around 295 children with disabilities. Out of which around 53 of them could be mainstreamed in schools. ABS has 60 children with disabilities registered with it in the current year.
Towards the successful fulfillment of the initiatives of the ABS many bilateral, international and NGOs and individuals have contributed financially and in kind. A few prominent contributors are UNICE, Bhutan Foundation , DAHW GLRA, Save the Children USA, Bussi-en International Social Welfare Organisation, Shuchona Foundation, Bangladesh and Rotary Club of Taichung, Taiwan. Her Majesty’s close association with other organisations working with children with disabilities has been pivotal in ABS receiving the support it got from the royal government authorities and the office of the Prime Minister.
Royal Award on National Day
ABS and its beneficiaries are blessed to receive strong support from Their Majesties and the patronage of Her Majesty in mitigation of challenges the parents with children with disabilities face . Towards appreciating and recognizing the contribution made to the nation, His Majesty The King awarded the National Order of Merit (Gold) to ABS on the occasion of the National Day Celebration at Trongsa in 2016.
ABS Centre a Royal Gift
I am hopeful that ABS will grow as very resourceful organization as Her Majesty has conveyed the Royal Command of His Majesty The King that a functional Centre will be designed and built under the Royal initiative to meet the emerging needs of persons with disabilities. ABS hopes the purpose-built National Facility will be supported with Regional level Care Centers staffed with highly qualified care providers in due course of time.
Source of Inspiration
Her Majesty’s personal interest in the affairs of the Society has been very instrumental in the functioning of the organization. Her compassionate and love means a great deal to children and parents who go through daily struggles. To all who work in ABS Her Majesty has been an immense source of great motivation as support to children with moderate to severe disabilities demands tremendous efforts.
Felicitation & Prayers to Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen
In closing as I offer gratitude to Her Majesty for the honour to serve as the founding chair to see through the establishment of ABS. I offer my heartfelt felicitation on the successful commemoration of the Decade’s Glorious Reign of Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen, and wish with heart felt prayers Their Majesties- a Happy Tenth Royal Wedding Anniversary.
May ABS help fulfill the Royal Wishes of Their Majesties in giving dignity of human life and living to all persons with disabilities.
Dasho Kunzang Wangdi is the Founding Chairperson of ABS Board of Trustee.