Beautiful Smiles, beautiful problems

Jalpaiguri, West Bengal

Disability affects hundreds of millions of families in developing countries. Currently, around 15% of the total world’s population are said to be suffering from a disability. Having a disability places you in the world’s largest minority group and as the population ages, this figure is expected to increase. 80% of persons with disabilities live in developing countries, according to the UN Development Program (UNDP). The World Bank estimates that 20% of the world’s poorest people have some kind of disability and tend to be regarded in their own communities as the most disadvantaged. Poor people are more at risk of acquiring a disability because of lack of access to good nutrition, health care, sanitation, as well as safe living and working conditions. Once this occurs, people face barriers to the education, employment, and public services that can help them escape poverty. Statistics show a steady increase in these numbers. In India, the figure is estimated around 100 million people. Basic services for handicapped people are hardly accessible to less than 5% of the disabled persons.

Maria BastiFamilies with a low or zero level of education and very low purchasing power are ill-equipped to bring-up the handicapped, who are often considered “a curse from God” or an “unwanted burden”. HOWRAH SOUTH POINT was founded in 1976 by French Father Francois Laborde to help handicapped children and provide a medical support to the most deprived from the slums in Howrah, the industrial suburb of Kolkata. HSP, a non-confessional organization opened to people of all caste, creed and language, has the aim of facilitating the rehabilitation of the physically, mentally and socially challenged back into the mainstream of society. Today HSP encompasses 5 handicapped children’s Homes and 7 outdoor physiotherapy Centers located in Howrah and Jalpaiguri, providing residential care to 275 children among whom 160 are physically or mentally challenged. They are provided with basic needs, food, shelter, medical attention, physiotherapy, education and training. Maria Basti, among the specialized for spastic, mentally and physically handicapped children centers of Jalpaiguri, is a very unique place. All the 13 girls living there are of age and suffer major mental and physical disabilities, more than 90% in some cases. Solidarity is the main feature of everyday life in Maria Basti. There are precise rhythms, repetitive gestures that give each day a specific schedule to follow in order to lighten the burden for the people who work and live in the center and to make the days for the girls, as much sliding and independently manageable as possible.

Barrackpore, West Bengal

Since ancient times, leprosy has been regarded by the community as a contagious, mutilating and incurable disease. Many myths and stigma have always surrounded it. Of course, it is not a curse of god. And it’s not hereditary. No child was ever born with leprosy and, contrary to popular belief, it is one of the least contagious of all the communicable diseases, only 15% to 20% of cases being contagious. When ‘Mycobacterium leprae’ was discovered by Hansen in 1873, it was the first bacterium to be identified as causing disease in man. Today, Leprosy is curable disease, at all stages.
It is estimated that there are between one and two million people visibly and irreversibly disabled due to past and present illness who require to be cared for by the community in which they live. It is not totally clear how leprosy is spread, although all sources agree that prolonged, close contact is necessary for contracting the disease. It normally thrives in conditions of low nutrition, lack of hygiene, and insanitary conditions.

Udayan Thus, in overcrowded slums the incidence of leprosy is much higher than in other establishments. Early detection and regular treatment are necessary means for the elimination of the disease.
The diagnosis and treatment of leprosy is easy and most endemic countries are striving to fully integrate leprosy services into existing general health services. Multi-Drugs-Therapy (MDT) must be made available in all primary health centers to enable patients to be treated as close as possible to their homes. This is especially important for those under-served and marginalized communities most at risk from leprosy, often the poorest of the poor.  All the children of UDAYAN, located in Barrackpore, are affected by leprosy in some way. Most of them were born in leprosy colonies and have parents who suffer from the disease. About 5% of the children themselves suffer from the disease. The Center was founded by Reverend J. Stevens who started taking care of eleven children in 1970. After 40 years and 7 thousands children, today Udayan caters 100 girls and 200 boys between 4 and 18. Udayan provides a loving home and an opportunity for a new life – free of the scourge of leprosy and its associated poverty – through education, food, clothing, medical care, access to recreational facilities and vocational training.

These stories have been shot to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the BENEDETTA D’INTINO FOUNDATION’s activities in West Bengal, India. BENEDETTA D’INTINO FOUNDATION was founded in 1992 to improve the quality of life for children in distress and to support their families. The Centro Benedetta D’Intino Onlus was opened, in Milan, in 1994. Soon after it became one of the most specialized existing services in Italy, providing clinical rehabilitative interventions in communicative and language disorders associated with motor disability. In 1996, along with Dominique Lapierre, the Foundation began to support and actively help Maria Basti and Udayan.

The reportage was exhibited during a charity evening in Milan.