VHP foundation offers support to migrant children with disabilities

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At least one in every 50 or 60 migrant children is diagnosed with a disability, says organisation secretary Akila Ramarathinam

VHP Australia’s Foundation has helped more than 300 families – not just of Indian origin but a variety of backgrounds

There is a growing need for support services for new migrant children with disabilities and their families in Australia, according to Akila Ramarathinam, General Secretary for the Hindu community organisation Vishva Hindu Parishad of Australia.

“Many new migrants are coming to Australia, and at least one in every 50 or 60 children is diagnosed with some disability,” Ramarathinam said. “The need is growing… it’s unfortunate.”

Ramarathinam said new migrants with disabled children were especially vulnerable, as they didn’t know what support was available or how to access it. “After they land into the country they don’t know where to go, it’s very daunting,” she said.

Vishva Hindu Parishad of Australia – also known as VHP Australia – recognised the need for support services in 2009 and established Hindu Services Foundation to provide programs run by its volunteers.

“When we started nothing was available,” Ramarathinam said. The organisation began by advertising activities and support services in schools around Sydney. As families reached out for help, Ramarathinam began to get an idea about the challenges they faced and simple life experiences they often missed. “Parents told us they couldn’t take their children to restaurants because with their behaviour it was not very comfortable,” she recalled.

After hearing this, the volunteers decided to instead bring a restaurant to the families and made arrangements for a local establishment to cater a special event. “We told them don’t worry about the children’s behaviour, because everyone will be the same and we’ll have lots of volunteers to help,” Ramarathinam said.

Having run similar events and activities for the past six years, VHP Australia’s Foundation has helped more than 300 families – not just of Indian origin but a variety of backgrounds, as well as those Ramarathinam calls “local Australians”.

For the Australians, Ramarathinam said the ‘restaurant’ events were often the first time their children were given the chance to taste Indian cuisines. “Because they don’t go to restaurants,” she explained. “Also they get to know about our culture, so a lot of inclusion is happening.”

While the children try new food, for parents the activities provide the opportunity to mingle with other parents and caregivers, “and get information on how to improve their lives and the life of their child,” Ramarathinam said.

In October, VHP Australia won recognition for its efforts supporting disabled children and their families in New South Wales, receiving a NSW Carers Award from the state’s Minister for Multiculturalism John Ajaka. Ramarathinam said the organisation was thrilled to receive the award, which was recognition for “the commitment and the dedication” of its many volunteers over the years.

“We’re hoping that through this award we may be getting some financial support from the community, and also more volunteers will be joining… so we can expand with more activities,” she said.

Founded in 1996 with headquarters in Sydney, VHP Australia works to promote the Hindu principle of unity in diversity and multiculturalism in Australia, and provides social, educational and cultural services to the community. As a registered charity, it works Australia-wide and has branches in Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.

The next event for families with disabled children will be held on 28 November, in celebration of the International Day for People with Disability. Attendees can enjoy yoga, Bollywood dance, music, games and vegetarian food, at Don Moore Community Centre, in North Rocks from 3.30pm to 6.30pm. For more information and to reserve a spot, call Ramarathinam on 02 8814 7016, or Dr Shobha Kumar on 0407 899 582.

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