Development Story

SWID Bangladesh and its development story

Society for the Welfare of the Intellectually Disabled, Bangladesh, now better known as SWID, Bangladesh, is the pioneer organization for the cause of the intellectually disabled in this country. It is a non-government, voluntary, social service organization. It is also the only national organization of its kind with Branches at different parts of the country. Its head-office is located at 4/A, Eskaton Garden, Dhaka.

This Society was formed 25 years ago in December, 1977, when most of people of this country had little knowledge about educability or sociability of persons with intellectual disability. Such persons were then mentioned as idiots and most often classed/mixed up by many with the lunatics.

Before the establishment of this Society, the elite parents who were naturally very concerned for the future of their intellectually disabled children, were looking for a way out. Some such parents in Dhaka city, Mrs. Johura Rahman, Mr. D P Barua, Mrs. Salma Huque took lead in this effort. Fortunately Dr. Sultana S. Zaman, a dynamic person and then Associate Professor of Psychology, Dhaka University who had specialized on mental retardation (the name by which intellectual disability was referred at that time) during her research work abroad, was also looking for an opportunity to try her scheme for the education of the educable intellectually disabled. With her help, the parents finalized a plan for the education of the intellectually disabled children in normal schools in separate classes to have thereby some opportunity for their socialization in place of seggregation together with their possible education.

They then approached Mr. R.B. Saha, Principal, Willes Little Flower School, Dhaka with a request for his support to the scheme by providing accommodation for the special class in his institution. Mr. Saha readily agreed to this request and thus the first special education class for the intellectually disabled in Bangladesh was started on January 5, 1978 in Willes Little Flower School in a separate house at the center of the school campus. This was followed with a second special education class in January 1979 in Bangladesh Girls Guide Association School. These successes were prelude for an approach for the integrated education of the intellectually disabled in normal schools and with normal children at different places in Bangladesh. Most of the schools/classes of SWID, Bangladesh for the intellectually disabled are now located in normal school premises.

Formation of Society

Some parents of the intellectually disabled children, psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers who had been exchanging views for the welfare of such children, held a series of meetings in November, 1977. They then established an association named as “Society for the Care and Education of the Mentally Retarded Children” (SCEMRC) on December 24, 1977 with specific objectives and a constitution. Dr. Sultana S. Zaman was the Convenor of the first.

Organizing Committee and Mr. D.P Barua, Mrs. Zohura Rahman, Mrs. Salma Huque and Mrs. Hosne Ara Kamal were its Members. This was replaced by a full-fledged Executive Committee as per its constitution in a General Meeting of the Society held on March 23, 1978. The Society was also registered in 1978 with the Social Welfare Directorate of the Government as a voluntary agency. It has since undergone rapid expansion with more and more members, students and increase in its service units/Branches at different parts of Bangladesh. The name of the Society was changed to “Society for the Care and Education of Mentally Retarded, Bangladesh”(SCEMRB) in 1988 with some modification in the constitution to make it a national organization, a form in which it was then already functioning and to change its character as a parent organization. In 199*7, the name of the Society was again changed to “Society for the Welfare of the Intellectually Disabled, Bangladesh” (S WID, Bangladesh) to give preference for the words “intellectual disabled/disability” in place of “mental retarded/retardation’. The Society has since been functioning as a federal organization with autonomy to its Branches to pave the way for their fast development and expansion of services for the intellectually disabled.

The main objectives of the Society as per its present constitution are:

  • To promote the welfare, care, education, habilitation and rehabilitation of persons with
    intellectual disability and to advocate for their cause and rights.
  • To assist parents and guardians to provide for the care and welfare of persons with
    intellectual disability.
  • To adopt measures for setting up Special Education Classes, Vocational Training Centers,
    Sheltered Workshops,  Employment Facilities,  Residential Homes,  Clinics,  Teacher
    Training Units etc. aimed at serving persons with intellectual disability.
  • To  mobilize  support  of the  government,  public  bodies,  trusts  and national  and
    international societies for the welfare of persons with intellectual disability.
  • To bring out publications on intellectual disability, its causes, prevention etc. and
    rehabilitation of persons with intellectual disability.
  • To establish Branches all over the country to promote further the objectives of the
  • To raise fund for the welfare of persons with intellectual disability and to invest the
    surplus, if any, in security deposits or other form of safe investment for better use in
    future for persons with intellectual disability.

Association with  NFU(Norwegian Association for the Mentally Retarded)

The Society ( SCEMRB) found its greatest and trusted friend in 1981 when it came into contact with NFPU, Norwegian Parents Organization for the Mentally Retarded. Dr. Sultana S. Zaman visited Norway in April 1981 at the invitation of NFPU and Mr. Sigurd Gohli, Secretary General of NFPU visited Dhaka in June, 1981 with a TV team for an evaluation of our Society’s programmes.

This led to a fraternal collaboration between Bangladesh and Norway and to a glorious time for the Society. NFPU came forward with neassary financial support for not only the existing activities of the Society, but also advised us through a consultant/technical representative for new programmes and for the expansion of our activities with new Branches at different parts of the

country. This lasted for 18 years (from 1982-1999). The Society through its own efforts and NFPU’s supports established 40 Branches throughout the country that are now providing education/training to the intellectually disabled students.

During the years of collaboration NFPU also supported programmes of the Society for training of the teachers and other staffs of the Branches, the training of parents, social workers and other relevant persons. Some teachers of this Society were also trained abroad and/or had international exposure at the expenses of NFPU.

Different kinds of advocacy works and a”wareness building efforts were also undertaken during this period. A national seminar was held on most of these years to project the cause of the intellectually disabled on a national scale and to create awareness among professionals and non-professionals and the general people. These national conferences/seminars were on themes as below:

                                              Themes                                                                            Year

1.  Causes of mental retardation and its prevention                                             1980

2.  International Year of Disabled Persons                                                            1981

3.  Development of Parents Association for the mentally retarded                 1982

4.  Prospects for the care, education and rehabilitation of the

       mentally retarded in Bangladesh                                                                      1983

5.   Rehabilitation of the mentally retarded by 2000 A.D. in

       Bangladesh                                                                                                             1984

6.   Legal rights and protection of the mentally retarded persons

       in Bangladesh                                                                                                        1985

7.   Social rights of the mentally retarded                                                               1986

8.    Mental Retardation                                                                                           1990

9.    Role of Government for the welfare of the mentally retarded

        in Bangladesh                                                                                                       1991

10. United Nations Convention on the rights of the child, 1989 and

        its implementation in Bangladesh for the mentally retarded                    1992

11.  Education for all: rights of the mentally retarded in Bangladesh               1994

All these national conferences were attended by high personalities and professionals of this country. The press and national media provided good support to the objects of the conferences/of the Society by giving wide publicity.

As the Society had no accommodation of its own in Dhaka city in the early years of collaboration with NFPU to cater its programmes for the intellectually disabled, NFPU and NORAD provided the necessary fund amounting to Tk. 1 crore 35 lac to purchase a plot of land (1 bigha 14 Kathas) at 4 Eskaton Garden, Dhaka with a two storied building on it. Mrs. Solvi Knudsen, President of NFPU donated the property to the Society formally in September, 1991. This will remain as a permanent symbol of fraternity and cooperation between Norway and Bangladesh for the cause of the intellectually disabled of Bangladesh.

Activities with International Societies

To align itself with regional and international organizations, the Society has been a member of Asian Federation for the Mentally Retarded (AFMR) and of the Inclusion International (previously ILSMH, International League of Societies for the Mental Handicapped). The Society has played important roles in both of these organizations.

The Society participated and played active role in all the biennial conferences of AFMR with the possible largest delegations from its general members, office bearers and professionals. The 13th Asian Conference on Mental Retardation (ACMR), an international Conference of the members of AFMR was held in Dhaka in 1997 when -the president of AFMR was Mrs. Shahar Banu Salam, one of the senior most members of the Society. The Conference was inaugurated by the then Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. It was attended by 133 foreign delegates from 22 countries and 245 local delegates.

Our Society’s representatives attended different conferences of Inclusion International (ILSMH). Commander (Retd.) A. J. M. Hamed Hossain, a member of the Society was made the Chairman on Asian Affairs at its 11th World Congress held in New Delhi in 1994 and worked as such for 2 years. An intellectually disabled person, Shahen Rasul, trained in Dhaka was chosen as a self advocate and attended its conference held at The Hague in 1996.

Government Involvement

The Government of Bangladesh has shown keen interest for the welfare of the disabled. The Government has therefore involved itself with the programmes and activities of the Society soon after the Society had embarked on its pioneering activities for the cause of the Intellectually Disabled. But the support has been little compared to the actual requirement because welfare activities for such people are very costly and the number of intellectually disabled persons in our country is very big (estimated number is about 39 lac).

The main building of the Society at 4/A, Eskaton Garden has been constructed on land and with funds provided by the Government. The Society obtained 0.33 acres of khash land for this purpose in 1979-80 and a sum of Tk. 10.00 lac was granted for making necessary deed etc. The construction work was however delayed for different reasons such as proper acquisition of land, preparation of construction plan and estimates, soil test, grant of fund etc. The Govt. of Bangladesh ultimately granted Tk. 1 crore 58 lac for the construction of a building with a 6 storeyed foundation and the building was constructed in 1989-90. This building at 4/A, Eskaton Garden, is now the Head-Office of SWID. It was inaugurated by the then and the present Hon’ble Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia and in now known as National Institute for the Intellectually Disabled (NHD).

Our Hon’ble Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia also initiated the first recurring grant @ Tk. 500/- per teacher per month for 160 teachers of the intellectually disabled children in this Society in 1994. This recurring grant has been later replaced from July, 2000 by Govt. contribution to teacher/staff salary at.the rate of 60% of the teachers/assistants’ salaries and allowances, when foreign funding to the Society by NFPU was totally withdrawn and activities of the Society were facing closure for shortage of funds.

The Society and its Branches also received some special grants from government bodies/local autonomous units in consideration of their urgent need. Some Branches were also provided with govt. lands for their school houses.

The Govt. have also passed Disability Welfare Act 2001 (Pratibondhi Kalyan Ain 2001) for the welfare of the disabled and are providing additional grants through its Jatio Protibondhi Unnayan Foundation.

Assistance from other donors

The Society could not have undertaken so much and so many different kinds of welfare activities for the intellectually disabled but for the support of some other organizations, foreign and local, for some specific purposes.

In this connection the support of LEV for the education of the intellectually disabled children of some slum areas of Dhaka city and for a rehabilitation project for suitably trained intellectually disabled persons deserves mention. The Society tried to establish and run permanent commercial factories for the rehabilitation of the intellectually disabled with this help.

Bishop Bekkars Foundation of the Netherlands gave the society technical support for the development of the physiotherapy unit and for the training of professionals in this field in Netherlands, Germany and England for working as physiotherapists. Oxfam, Caritas are such other firms. Locally the Society obtained the highest amount of financial help from late Mia Amanullah of Chittagong for the construction of a 2 storeyed building with a sum amounting to Tk.45.00 lac for the Chittagong Branch with a physiotherapy unit and a K.G school for Reverse Integration.

BRAC the largest NGO of our country have also helped the Society and its Branches with big donation. BRAC is also helping the Society to educate the educable unreached intellectually disabled children through its Non-Formal Primary Schools in unreached areas of the country. At present there are 1062 intellectually disabled children in 440 non-formal BRAC School.

Other important local donors for specific purposes are National Life Insurance Co.(for the annual sports of Society), A.F. Mojibur Rahaman Foundation, M/S Shaw Wallace Bangladesh Ltd. Mrs. Tahera Huque and others, Nestle Bangladesh Ltd., M/S Fakhruddin & Sons.

Formation of other auxiliary organizations

SWID has also been responsible for the formation of 2 other independent organizations to serve the cause of the intellectually disabled. These are :

  1. Manoshik Pratibondhi Kalyan Trust, Bangladesh (MPKTB): This was formed by SWID to-work as a Trust for welfare activities for the intellectually disabled persons. This was registered in 1994 as a separate organization and is run by its Board of Trustees as per its own constitution.
  2. Special Olympic, Bangladesh: This organization works for the participation of intellectually disabled persons in World Special Olympics etc. It was registered in 1993 and is run by its own Management Body.

Future Programmes

SWID is now 25 years old. It has acquired a good experience over these years from its activities for the intellectually disabled. The condition of the intellectually disabled persons in the urban and rural areas and form the rich and poor families are better known. So are known the requirement s for their development. A fair knowledge has been acquired on the ways by which the education/training for them can be catered. Ways for reaching the unreached intellectually disabled person in remote areas of the country have been explored.

Pratibondhi Kalyan Ain 2001, has initiated activities for the disabled. Its is being examined for improvement and steps for effectiveness. Pratibonhi Unnayan Foundation has also started functioning. The Govt. have issued instructions for the adoption of some welfare measures forthe disabled persons. The impact from these are yet to be seen. But it appears the Govt. is now sincere and serious in its efforts for the disabled.

Further, due to awareness building about the sad plight of the intellectually disabled the local bodies and the rich and benevolent persons are extending their helping hands more than before. The advocacy works of the Society and the Mass media are also removing the wrong notion about sociability and employability of most of them. But Bangladesh is not like an advanced welfare state, There is no national insurance here. Further, we are yet to fully implement the “education for all” programme even for the normal children. The health sector is far behind than in the developed countries. Hence the parents and guardians have to play a greater role for their wards than what is required in a modern welfare state. They have to play the role of the pressure group for the intellectually disabled.

The silver jubilee celebration of the Society is therefore an appropriate occasion for evaluating the acquired knowledge’s and experiences and the present situation, for determining appropriate further programmes for the welfare of the intellectually disabled.

The Society and its Branches have intellectually disabled persons of very different ages, some 5/6 years and some from the beginning of the Society and therefore aged about 40 years or more. A few of them are even married and have children. They are also with different back ground and have different degree of intellectual disability or even multi-disability. There are therefore, very different type of people together in the same class/institution and at the same hours which calls for additional steps due to special problems. All the e factors collectively and individually have to be considered for future programmes.

The rehabilitation of those who are rehabilitable with jobs in urban areas, needs not only special/suited training but also co-operation from and follow-ups by their

parents/professionals under agreed programme. Those who are not rehabilitable need to be identified at the earliest and appropriate programmes for them have to be determined by consultation with their guardians. Again most of those who are educable can be put in normal schools under special arrangements and with training/understanding with the involved teachers and the school authority. Rehabilitation of such children can be accomplished with necessary step in the Pratibondhi Ain.

This Society, the professionals and others working for the welfare of the intellectually disabled are trying to determine the further appropriate measures and programmes and modifications in our existing programmes suitable for our country. It is expected that the Society will play its role for the evolution of necessary changes and for their implementation to accelerate the development of the intellectually disabled in Bangladesh. May Allah help the Society to fulfill its plans and programmes.

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