Wed, 26 Jun, 2019

Leave no one behind!

Challenged by Down syndrome but not beaten an inch, Rhea D’Mello is an ideal example of how inclusive education, parental support and community involvement can facilitate a child with this issue to grow into a confident adult who’s prepared to face the world independently

07th April 2019, 03:33 Hrs

BHARATI PAWASKAR


Each person on this planet is unique. No two persons are alike. This universal truth dawns upon us every time we meet a new person. However it doesn’t surprise us at all as being different doesn’t make anyone a lesser human being. If all of us live with this inclusive spirit, the world can pave way to joy and success for all. It won’t remain a distant dream as this year’s theme for the World Down Syndrome Day (commemorated on March 21) advocates ‘Leave No One Behind’ which is a loud call to action for the world to become more inclusive.   

“One of the best examples of the miracles that inclusion can facilitate is Rhea D’Mello. Diagnosed with Down syndrome at birth, today, Rhea has grown into a young, confident girl and a passionate advocate for inclusion. She is a role model for all young people and her power fuels the revolution for social justice,” states developmental paediatrician Dr Nandita De Souza, better known in Goa as the champion of children. 

Founder, Sethu Centre for Child Development and Family Guidance, Dr Nandita who witnessed the exceling graph of Rhea’s life from the first month of her birth till now, shares with joy the success of inclusiveness. Rhea was a case of Down syndrome (DS), a genetic condition, but her parents were always very positive. Admitting that her role was very limited Dr Nandita states, “It consisted of doing Rhea’s medical checks, advising on health issues, monitoring her developmental progress and giving her parents guidance on how it could be promoted. We were able to identify inclusive schools right through and this also made a big difference.” 

Rhea had always been a very confident child and her brave parents took her everywhere, without feeling awkward. “I think she imbibed their pride in her and this made all the difference,” feels Dr Nandita. 

The best advice Rhea’s parents got was from her paediatrician on the day she was born. ‘Take one day at a time,’ advised Dr Meena from Goa Medical College and Hospital. Rhea’s parents were recommended to visit Sangath Centre where they were guided about Rhea’s upbringing (like the type of toys to select and physio-therapy). It was here that they met Dr Nandita De Souza who in Rhea’s life, proved to be an angle and a true mentor. “We remember Dr Nandita telling us one day, ‘Rhea is making a monkey out of us’ because going by the book, a child with DS had delayed milestones and there were some very typical traits that went with these kids, but Rhea proved them all wrong. The main incident which instilled faith and hope in us, was when at the behest of Sangath Centre, Rhea was admitted to a normal nursery at the age of two, as being a part of inclusive education. This inclusive education was to continue in Rhea’s life until she was 18 years old,” recalls Rhea’s father David D’Mello.

Dr Nandita is of the opinion that inclusive education has to start as early as possible and continue right through, with adequate supports in the form of special educators, developmentally appropriate curriculum, respectful and welcoming environments in school and society, ‘Universal Design for Learning’ approach to teaching, offering a range of vocational subjects allowances and concessions in examinations and so on. “What is needed is a change in societal perception that individuals with disabilities can and must be a part of the community and be given an active role. Their families require acceptance. Schools must open their doors and become welcoming spaces for children with special needs,” expresses Dr Nandita. 

Rhea’s journey continued with support from all sides. She attended her first school, ‘Little Stars’ in Porvorim where she was accepted with open arms by teachers Annette’ and Lavy who brought out the best in her as a kid. Later at Chubby Cheeks it was Giselle Lobo who was instrumental in her academic, social and psychological development. Rhea enjoyed her school years in Goa till she was eight. Then Rhea’s family moved to Bahrain where she continued in the Special Education Cell in an inclusive school.

In Bahrain, it was Christine Gordon, principal of the Regional Institute of Autism (RIA), (where Rhea is presently being trained as a Teaching Assistant in the regular Nursery Class) who made Rhea self-confident and independent, besides guiding her in self-advocacy. Rhea’s sister Richa is her role model and both have a lot of fun together.

Rhea grew up working her way through all her milestones including obstacles with the support and guidance of  friends, teachers, therapists and medical professionals, who stood by Rhea’s parents in their mission of raising Rhea. 

Rhea enjoys keeping herself busy. Music of all genres amuses her.  She also has an exceptional ability to remember names. She makes beautiful greeting cards and volunteers at a florist shop in Bahrain. She utilises the limitations associated to DS to her advantage, as she can perform highly repetitive/ routine jobs without making a single mistake. 

Shift to Bahrain has helped Rhea in the post schooling period, where she is being trained as a teaching assistant. She helps in daily class activities besides conducting yoga classes for kids. She is thrilled to be handling little children at school and she is very good at it. It is noteworthy that Rhea attended the Inclusive International’s 17th World Congress in Birmingham in 2018 as a Self-Advocate, where she presented her success story. She has also undergone a training of Self-Advocates in Egypt, conducted by Inclusive International in March 2019. 

Rhea’s main goal is to create awareness in society, to change employment opportunities for people like them from sheltered workshops to inclusive employment in the open labour market and to end sub-minimum wages. She wants to achieve this change through self-advocacy, where they are included as equals in the community and also earn a fair chance to prove their potential.

“We hope someday Rhea will contribute to society and leave her mark on other similar families,” expresses Rhea’s optimistic mother who has always been the wind beneath her wings.

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