When Seeam Ul Karim was born, he brought immense joy to his parents’ lives. However, a few years later, he was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a neurological and developmental condition that changed the lives of Seeam and his parents.
Soon he began to develop symptoms of other associated disabilities – severe learning problems, reduced sensory and motor abilities, beta thalassemia, diabetes and communication disorders.
When Seeam’s father refused to support his son’s treatment for his deteriorating condition, the mother – Sajida Rahman Danny – took on that responsibility.
And so began the mother’s fight.
Many schools rejected Seeam, and not only that, landlords refused to rent their houses to Danny and Seeam.
“I was very young when my son was diagnosed. I received no financial support from my family or my husband after our divorce.”
“But I could never give up on Seeam. I kept my faith in him,” Danny said.
I saw that all these children have enormous potential and a desire to learn. We strive to recognize their talents and design teaching-learning methods based on their strengths and needs.
Sajida Rahman Danny
Faced with these rejections and discriminatory attitudes towards her son, Danny was led to launch in 2014 a vocational training center for children with neurodevelopmental disorders called PFDA Vocational Training Center Trust.
Located in Mohakhali DOHS, this center currently teaches 200 children with ASD, cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome and intellectual disability different vocational skills – such as baking, sewing, painting, jewelry making, catering services, store keeping, computer operation, and much more. They also participate in different types of extracurricular activities such as singing, dancing, drama and sports.
Danny had to quit his job at Unicef and sell his property to launch the centre. The center started with just six children with neurodevelopmental disorders.
“At that time, almost everyone close to me discouraged me. I had a secure job with a good salary at the time, but I sacrificed it to create the center,” Danny said.
“I thought there were a lot of parents like me who struggled to help their children, and I had to do something for them,” she added.
For Danny’s efforts, Seeam completed the British Council’s “AS” level and got a job at a duty-free shop at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport. He can interact with clients like any other qualified professional and is fluent in three languages.
Seeam said: “I can now use public transport or use ride-sharing apps. I can cook for myself and do most household chores. In most cases, I no longer need the help from my mother.”
Ishaba Hafiz Sushmi, an autistic girl, also went through similar obstacles like Seeam. Overcoming the stigma, she learned to sing, dance and act. At PFDA, she works in jewelry production.
This year, she even received a “successful person with autism” award from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. His paintings have also been selected for the Prime Minister’s Eid greeting cards.
Ishaba and a group of children with ASD participated in the Autism Talent Gala in Hong Kong in 2019, and the team won prizes in three categories.
According to Md Amir Hossain, Senior Specialist of the PFDA-VTC program, more than 100 PFDA graduates who have neurodevelopmental disabilities are now working in different organizations. About thirty graduates run their own business or work from home for lack of a favorable atmosphere.
For admission to PFDA, the admissions team interviews the child and family members to gather relevant data about the applicant.
Then, the pre-admission team observes the potential student to develop a personalized training plan. The data is managed by custom software called “CUMO”.
The team also offers therapies, professional trades and extracurricular activities necessary for the development of each student. Finally, the candidate is admitted either to the pre-vocational section or to the vocational section of the PFDA.
Danny said most of these children remain confined to their homes after being kicked out of school or completing primary education.
“I saw that all these children have enormous potential and a desire to learn. We strive to recognize their talents and design teaching-learning methods according to their strengths and needs.”
“When we introduced this method in Bangladesh, most people told me that it wouldn’t work. However, I didn’t give up and I think the decision I made in 2014 was the right one,” she added.
Since founding PFDA-VTC, Danny, however, has battled countless obstacles centered around stigma and lack of financial support.
Many discriminatory and negative attitudes exist in our society towards people with disabilities. “Such a negative mindset creates insurmountable obstacles for us when we want to raise funds, resources and support for this institution. We have to procure different types of expensive teaching and learning equipment for our students The funding crisis remains a constant challenge,” she said. said.
A determined Danny now dreams of expanding PFDA’s services nationwide, accessible to people from all socio-economic backgrounds.