SWID Laboratory Model School has been providing a safe place for intellectually disabled children. It also equips children with disabilities to find vocations.
Adnan Khan Rajib, 33, suffering from partial intellectual disability, is an efficient worker at a well-known pharmaceutical company. He is working in the capacity of a store helper, and is known for his punctuality.
"Rajib is a competent worker. He never keeps anything undone, rather, he is the most reliable person when something needs to be done urgently," said Rajib's colleague Shariful Islam.
Echoing Shariful, Rina Rani Bhowmik, Rajib's teacher from SWID Laboratory Model School, said in an affectionate tone, "Singing, drawing and punctuality are the qualities that make me remember Rajib after all these years. He still calls me when something significant happens in his life."
"By nature, our teachers are nurturing of their students. It is a big family where we treat them as such," said Rina who is teaching at Society for the Welfare of the Intellectually Disabled's (SWID) school.
This family bloomed in a classroom of Willes Little Flower School that started off with seven special students only. The parents of those seven children, combined with Dr Sultana Sarayat Ara Zaman's leadership, became the fuel behind establishing this school in 1977.
Currently, it has 532 branches in Bangladesh. They have 662 teachers to take care of 30,000 students. With care and love, they are grooming thousands of Rajib every day.
"We work towards building a better life for these special children. We help them to find their expertise and then we teach them to be self-reliant. But our biggest fight lies within actively changing the society's outlook towards them," stated Nurul Islam, director of SWID Bangladesh.
The school offers education for differently abled children in four stages. The process begins when parents identify any intellectual incapability in their children which bars them from receiving education at regular institutions.
The first stage is for mothers and their children. Children aging from three and a half to seven years attend the "Mother and Child Group" class together. In this class, they are taught the basic self-help skills. In medical term, the students of this class are identified as Severely Intellectually Disabled.
Children from seven to below ten are admitted in the "Children Group" class where they explore co-curricular activities.
In the third stage, the "Special Education Class," these children acquire qualities for academic education as they are now trainable to learn new things. They are known as Moderately Intellectually Disabled.
If satisfactory development is evident, children from each group are promoted to the next stage of learning.
With their daily hard work, the apparent intellectually disabled children become apt at handicraft, origami, boutique, embroidery and other activities. Such students attend the "Pre-vocational Training Class" where intensive training is provided for them so that they can use their vocation to earn money. These children are called Mildly Intellectually Disabled.
When and if some of the students grow an expertise, they start producing artefacts with commercial purposes. Their works are also exhibited at the yearly fair of National Social Service Day and International Disability Day.
In collaboration with the National Foundation for Development of the Disabled, SWID Bangladesh provides jobs for the mildly disabled students who are trainable and can work towards gaining a financial stability. This is how today Rajib is working at the Essential Drug Company Limited.
"My son sings and draws very well. All his latent talents started to evolve when I admitted him in SWID Laboratory School. The learning environment they offered for my son has helped him to be a self-reliant person. The same goes for all the other students. As a parent, I wish them luck to prosper every day," said Rashida Rozi, Rajib's mother.
Raising a concern that many parents do not take proper care of their intellectually disabled children, and take them to be burdens, Nurul Islam hoped to change this scenario and the wrong impression about intellectually disabled children. He said, "Changes do not happen overnight. But with more manpower and financial support from the government, we can execute our plans."