A wheelchair bound ‘teacher’ is changing lives of children with special needs in Kashmir
Javeed Ahmad Tak was 23 when his spine was damaged and he became wheelchair bound. He founded the Zaiba Aapa Institute of Inclusive Education in Bijbehara in Anantnag district, for children with disabilities. The 47-year-old social worker was awarded the Padma Shri in 2020 for his social work.
Mudassir Kuloo 6 Feb 2023 9:52 AM GMT
When Javeed Ahmad Tak went to visit his uncle in 1997, he was 23 years old, and studying at the Anantnag Degree College in south Kashmir. Little did he know then that that visit was going to be life changing for him and so many others.
Tak was shot at by gunmen and the bullets damaged his spine. “Ever since, I have been wheelchair bound,” the 47-year-old told Gaon Connection.
In 2006, Tak completed his Masters in Social Work from Kashmir, and, two years later, in 2008, he founded the Zaiba Aapa Institute of Inclusive Education in Bijbehara, in Anantnag district.
Tak’s institute has 130 students, some of whom are in the autism spectrum, have disabilities such as hearing and visual impairment, and physical challenges. There are 21 special educators who impart education to the students including vocational and rehabilitation training.
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Tak also runs a not-for-profit called Humanity Welfare Organization, that helps persons with disabilities. “We provide supportive devices like hearing aids, wheel chairs, crutches and sticks especially to school going children,” Tak said. In 2020, Tak was awarded the Padma Shri for his social work.
According to him, in the four districts of Anantnag, Kulgam Shopian and Pulwama in south Kashmir, there are over 15,000 children with disabilities.
Beacon of hope
For Afroza Jan, a resident of Bijbehara in Anantnag district in south Kashmir, the institute has become a beacon of hope for her daughter, nine-year-old Muntaha Fayaz.
“When Muntaha was only 45 days old she fell severely ill and has been paralysed ever since, and unable to move or even feed herself,” Afroza Jan told Gaon Connection.
“Two years ago we enrolled her in Zaiba Aapa Institute of Inclusive Education, and have seen a huge improvement in Muntaha who can sit without support now and can lift her arms. She is also trying to hold a pen and write,” the emotional mother added. She said it was all thanks to the efforts of the physiotherapists at the institute.
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Afroza Jan is now daring to hope that her daughter will be able to go to school like other children. Every morning, after feeding Muntaha, Afroza carries her to the main road, which is a few hundred metres away from home. From there, a bus takes Muntaha to the institute where she undergoes physiotherapy.
The Zaiba Aapa Institute of Inclusive Education charges anything between Rs 50 and Rs 300 per month including the bus fare. During the pandemic, Tak’s non-profit also worked tirelessly to provide medicines and rations to people with disabilities and their families.
“We ran primarily on public donations, but since 2018, Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiatives, based in Bengaluru, Karnataka, has financially supported the institute,” the social worker said.
Transforming lives of children with special needs
Tak’s institute also provides training in Braille, and it was this that opened up possibilities for 20-year-old Dukroo Zakai. It was here that she received free education along with books in Braille. “She was picked up from her doorstep and dropped back after school,” her uncle told Gaon Connection.
Zakai, who has been visually impaired since childhood, completed her education till the tenth standard at the institute and is today pursuing her graduation in New Delhi.
After class 10, she had to move to New Delhi as there were no higher education institutes available for such students in the valley, her uncle added.
“My daughter Misbah, who is 12 years old, has speech and hearing impairment and faced considerable difficulties in communication,” Manzoor Ahmad, a daily wage labourer in a government office, told Gaon Connection.
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From Chersoo Awantipora in Anantnag, Misbah attended the Zaiba Aapa Institute of Inclusive Education and now understands sign language well. She is also receiving speech therapy, Manzoor Ahmad said. He is particularly delighted that his daughter who loves sports has been given an opportunity to play in the institute.
“The children have several sporting activities available to them. These opportunities help these students grow, remain active and be communicative with others,” he pointed out.