Selim Reza, a young man born blind in the seaside locality of Patenga in Chittagong, grew up in a society that viewed its people with special needs with very little care, let alone anything special. As he grew up, he knew exactly what it would take to turn the “burdens” into assets.
There has never been enough schooling facilities for blind children in Bangladesh. So, for someone like Selim, becoming a graduate is itself a praiseworthy feat. The achievement speaks for the extreme hard work and determination it took to overcome all sorts of daunting odds to emerge what he is today.
In 2009, Selim founded the Patenga Protibondhi Unnayan Sangathan (the organization for the development of people with disabilities in Patenga) with the primary aim of educating children with disabilities, particularly those from the underprivileged backgrounds in the locality.
“We first locate the households that have children with disabilities. Then we visit each of those households and try to bring those children to the school that is run by our organization,” said Selim.
All the members of the Patenga Protibondhi Unnayan Sangathan have disabilities of some sort.
“When parents see that other people like their children are doing a good work, they feel encouraged to think differently about their children with disabilities,” Selim explained.
Apart from educating the children, Patenga Protibondhi Unnayan Sangathan also makes sure that they get access to free brail textbooks, education aids and stipends provided by the government.
“Our organization also helps adults. We link them with all the services and facilities that the government provides for people with disabilities,” Selim added.
Patenga Protibondhi Unnyan Sangathan, which has educated several hundred children and adults since 2009, is run on donations from local philanthropists and well-wishers. With the money, they have set up a grant scheme with which they currently sponsor 120 beneficiaries.
Young Bangla gave them the Joy Bangla Youth Award in 2017 in the community development category for their outstanding contribution in the welfare of people with disabilities.
The organization hopes to continue its work in bringing in meaningful changes in the lives of people with special needs. The members believe that with more support and sponsorship, they still have a lot more to do to significantly benefit people with special needs in the entire Chittagong division.