Hetauda: Imagine a person who, though not originally from Nepal, holds Nepal close to her heart. Hailing from Spain, thousands of miles away from Nepal, she has devoted her young age to serving the most vulnerable children in Hetauda, the capital of Bagmati province of Nepal.
Her name is Aina Barca.
In 2012, Barca came to Nepal for the first time. This journey proved to be transformative when she encountered children with intellectual disabilities. Witnessing the challenging circumstances these children faced became a pivotal moment in her life. She was just 21 when she first came to Nepal.
Today, Aina Barca runs the Si Asha Foundation, a nonprofit established to create hope for the people with disabilities, vulnerable women, and marginalized groups, through education, treatment, empowerment and socio-labor inclusion, so that they can live with dignity.
The foundation runs Asha Special School and Rehabilitation Center, a school dedicated to serving children with intellectual disability. Currently, the foundation has established such schools in Lalitpur and Makawanpur districts.
Foundation of this institution is rooted in the belief that every child possesses the capacity to learn when provided with an education tailored to their specific needs, said Bal Krishna Chaulagain, president of this school. He shared the idea behind such a noble cause.
While in Hetauda, Aina Barca witnessed the dire circumstances faced by disabled individuals in the area. Her experience at a deaf school in Hetauda stirred a profound sense of urgency within her. Unable to remain passive in the face of such challenges, she was deeply moved by the sight of children picking rice grains from toilets. Drawing on her background of studying and working in the field of disability in Spain, Aina recognized the needs of children with cerebral palsy, distinguishing them from those with hearing impairments.
Fueled by her commitment to making a difference, Barca then said, “Give these kids with cerebral palsy to me, and I will start a school.” The space for her initiative was generously provided by the same deaf school and Bal Jagriti Yuwa Barsa, who allocated 1.5 kattha of land for her initiative.
This is how Asha Special School and Rehabilitation Centre was established in Kamane of Hetauda in January 2014.
Barca started the journey with three volunteers and five students, which included the three kids she encountered during her initial trip. In just three months, more than a dozen students joined the program. Currently, the school has more than 30 children and youth aged six to 31. Also, the school provides boarding services, allowing most children to reside on the premises. For those in nearby areas, there is also a bus facility available for attending classes.
According to Bal Krishna Chaulagain, the school caters to children with special abilities, and the curriculum and evaluation systems are tailored accordingly. In addition to conventional subjects such as Nepali, English, and Math, the institution focuses on imparting vocational skills and music education, he says.
“Students with intellectual disabilities also receive regular physiotherapy sessions. Recognizing the diverse needs of the students, some of whom may require assistance with basic tasks like eating or using the restroom, the school places a strong emphasis on teaching essential daily activities such as washing, bathing, room cleaning, and making telephone calls.”
Since these students may face challenges in exhibiting typical human behavior, the educational approach in this school extends beyond traditional academics. The students are classified into three grades based on their progress. Grade C comprises students dealing with significant behavioral issues. As they make improvements, they move up to Grade B. Grade A includes children with minimal behavioral problems who can write and read letters and numbers, engaging in conversations with others. This system allows for individualized support and progression within the learning environment.
“Even though these children have parents, who currently provide care, the concern arises about their well-being after the eventual passing of their parents. The goal is to ensure that these children don’t face homelessness or dependency in the absence of parental care. The focus is on empowering them to become self-sufficient and financially independent in the long run. The vision extends beyond immediate care, aiming for sustained rehabilitation that equips these children with the skills and resources necessary for a secure and independent future,” shares Chaulagain.
Explaining the operational aspects of the school, he shared, “When we open admissions, parents bring their children. We charge a fee from those parents who are able to pay, typically around Rs 20,000-21,000. However, we understand that not everyone can afford these amounts, so for families facing financial constraints, we have a system in place. Parents in need can seek a recommendation from their respective local governments, providing evidence of their financial struggles. In such cases, the school willingly waives the fees for the students. We strongly believe that education should be accessible to the poorest of the poor without financial barriers.”
Currently, this is doing wonderful, but running and maintaining the cost of the school is still a challenge, he added.
It took Aina Barca and her team three years to make the government aware about what intellectual disability is. With the recent changes in the system and the establishment of three tiers of government, there has been a positive shift in government support for their cause, shares Chaulagain. However, the initial phase was full of struggles, including the challenge of transporting students to school using a tempo. The finance ministry provided financial assistance, and the school continued to seek funds from both local and central governments for ongoing support. Recognizing the broader need, there is now a realization that their efforts should extend to all seven provinces. The goal is to secure government backing to expand their services nationwide, reaching and serving children in every province.
For parents with kids having disabilities, this school has become a source of hope. Goma Lama, whose five-year-old son has autism, sees this school as a blessing. “Getting into this school was tough because there are not many seats available. It’s hard to find schools like this in Nepal. What makes this school special is not just the limited number of seats but also how they make sure everything is clean and hygienic. They really care about giving a good education, and you can see how much effort they put into teaching. It’s not just about learning facts; they also teach important skills. It’s great to know that a school like this exists in Hetauda,” Lama shared with a smile.
According to her, this school is clean and maintains good hygiene. “The quality of education is high, and the kids are learning through dedicated efforts. It’s not just about teaching; the school also focuses on transferring essential skills.”
Many students had to remain at home without any learning opportunities due to intellectual disabilities and lack of awareness among parents. Following the establishment of school, many parents have seen a ray of hope. They also feel that their children can do creative work. This fact gives me immense happiness, shares Chaulagain.
The school is dedicated to assisting the most financially challenged individuals with disabilities throughout the country. “We just need a bit of support from the government and other donor communities to make this noble mission successful,” concludes Chaulagain. “We set an example for all how to ensure the best value for money.”