Eid is supposed to be inclusive — the great equaliser that brings everyone around us into the folds of happiness. Children, in particular, are the greatest amplifiers of happiness. They have the magical power of increasing our excitement exponentially. For most of us, it is hard to even imagine Eid without their infectious smiles. But there are many, way too many kids out there, who find it a little hard to fit in. Yet, it is in the smiles of these brave children that I find the most amazing grace. For millions of children, who need a bit more physical, emotional and therapeutic support, celebration of Eid is not quite straightforward. Whether their struggle is a developmental challenge or the consequence of an improvised explosive device, an accident, or the polio virus, Eid presents a particularly difficult time when they are unable to enjoy the festivities like other children. While these kids continue to inspire us with their immense dignity and courage, we, as a society, are failing them. A selfie with a celebrity or a customary photo-op with a gift from a politician, or even Eidi from a stranger may be a well-intentioned gesture, but does little to solve the underlying problems.
It may be easy to pin the blame on the government, but the mantle of responsibility falls on all of us. In particular, despite our collective desire to have everyone drink the technology cool-aid, the engineering and technology sectors have particularly failed children with special needs. The solutions that are available in the market are almost exclusively non-native, expensive and ill-suited. In particular, in my own field of biomedical engineering, students, faculty, staff and professional engineers demonstrate dangerous levels of ignorance about prosthetics and technologies to assist children who need a little bit of an extra support. There is nothing either in the curriculum or in practical training that enables our graduates to create solutions that can quite literally change the lives of millions of children in the country. Not only are we missing on doing the right thing, our myopia is shutting doors on opportunities for sustainable enterprises, not just in Pakistan but also in the developing world as a whole.
The engineering sector is reflective of the greater trends in society. The issue of children with special needs has been relegated to the fringes of social services and NGOs. It is not in the domain of research, of inclusion or of a fair shot at the future for everyone. It is in the domain of charity and not of innovative solutions. It is in the domain of pity and not of hope. We, as a society, have given up on those who are the most dignified and graceful among us, who carry high mountains on their backs day in and day out, and embrace struggles that are unimaginable for most of us.
The last few years have been tough for the nation and its children. The consequence of our struggles has affected countless children, directly and indirectly. This is in addition to our long-standing challenges in health and physical development. Those who find themselves on the deeper end of physical and development barriers are all our children. Just as our own Eids would be difficult to imagine without the angelic souls in our households, the celebration at the national level is incomplete without the full participation of all our children. The rich mosaic of our future, which should be a departure from our fragmented present, can only be a reality when all our children are included in it. An inclusive product requires an inclusive process. A future that includes all our children demands a present that includes all of us.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 22nd, 2015.
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