Disabled empowered through Baptist relief

BANGALORE, India (BP) -- Life has not been easy for Sabal Pathak.* Born with cerebral palsy, Pathak, 18, lives with his family in a rural village outside Bangalore, India. Although he is mentally alert and highly sociable, Pathak suffers from severe deformities in his arms and legs. He cannot walk; even crawling is difficult.

For the nearly 90 million people like Pathak who live with disabilities in India, day-to-day life can be grueling. Often bearing a social stigma because of their infirmity, many disabled people, especially women and children, are particularly vulnerable to abuse and abandonment. Human rights agencies report that 80 percent of children with disabilities in India will not live past age 40.

Personnel of Bangalore Baptist Hospital's Community Health Department hope to change the statistics and attitudes toward persons with disabilities, explains Naveen Thomas, the deputy director and chief of medical services at BBH. Thanks to donations provided by Southern Baptists to general relief efforts and Global Hunger Relief (formerly the World Hunger Fund), BBH has extended its efforts to help the disabled within Bangalore and surrounding villages.

The project, called Empower, builds on a two-year initiative to integrate the disabled into mainstream society in 40 villages, Thomas says. During the past two years, BBH offered support to nearly 500 people, giving them access to government programs and facilitating rehabilitation services and vocational training.

Pathak is one of the beneficiaries.

"Initially, we thought of arranging a wheelchair so family members could take Sabal where he needs to go," Thomas says. After more discussion, BBH instead provided Pathak with an "adult-sized" tricycle, which provided independent mobility as well as therapy for his withered limbs.

"Training was extremely difficult because of the deformities to his fingers," Thomas recalls. "But with his determination and perseverance -- and our encouragement -- he gained confidence."

Now, Pathak regularly drives his tricycle throughout the village streets without support.

"His family and the villagers are very happy to see him moving around (independently)," Thomas says.

Soon, Empower will expand services to an additional 20 villages, taking disability services to approximately 750 people. An opportunity to partner with government agencies to establish and manage a rehabilitation center could extend the services to approximately 60,000 people with disabilities.

Pathak will likely benefit from this as well.

In the coming months, "we are planning to give Sabal some income generating activities to make him financially independent," Thomas says.

Thomas thanks God for His guidance as the hospital expands its services to the disabled. He is also thankful for the committed doctors, nurses and other workers involved in the project.

Find out more about Bangalore Baptist Hospital at http://www.bbh.org.in/. It was founded by the IMB in 1973 and has been governed by Christian Medical College in Vellore since 1989.

Go to imb.org/healthcare to find ways the International Mission Board is meeting health care needs and for a list of health care volunteer opportunities. Visit imb.org/giving to contribute to relief funds.

Ways you can pray:

-- Pray for whole-life healing of Pathak and others like him.

-- Pray for adequate resources that will allow BBH to carry out their work among the disabled.

-- Pray for good cooperation with local authorities.

-- Pray for BBH personnel to demonstrate God's love among those who are suffering.


*Name changed. Tess Rivers is an IMB writer. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).