A school on the outskirts of Bandung, West Java is doing its part to create awareness for disabled children and provide a safe space for them to learn.
Tatang was only seven years old when a surgery to improve his vision went wrong, leaving him permanently blind.
It took him years to finally come to terms with his reality, but his strong support system helped to pick himself back up.
While other children were learning to read, Tatang learned Braille, a system of writing used by the visually impaired.
It has been a long journey of acceptance and understanding. Today, Tatang is the proud owner of a school that specializes in educating disabled children in Bandung, West Java.
“It was difficult to convince parents to allow their disabled children to go to school at first. They wanted a completely safe space for them to learn and grow,” Tatang said. “We didn’t have anything like that in our community. That is one of the reasons why I created this school.”
Tatang realized education facilities for children with disabilities were not available in his town. As somebody who grew up with a disability, he knows how important it is to feel acknowledged and accepted by society.
The school was created with the help of his brother in 2003. But after his brother’s death, Tatang assumed full responsibility. Now, with the help of volunteers, he teaches dozens of children with many different needs such as autism, Down’s syndrome and those with vision and hearing impairments.
Tita’s son Aldi has autism. She said for years it was difficult to find a school that her son felt comfortable in. After searching for a long time, she found Tatang’s school through a friend and immediately felt embraced by the community.
There are many parents like Tita, who are thankful that their children can be themselves in a place where they are also learning and growing.
But Tatang says his dreams are far from over.
“My dream is to have a fully equipped school with a science and computer lab. I am also working toward creating a special school just for the blind. But one of our biggest challenges is still how to gain support from communities beyond ours. It is still difficult to get funding to maintain this school,” he said.
Most of the students here live below the poverty line, making it impossible to keep the school afloat just by relying on tuition fees. For now, Tatang continues to seek donations from fellow Indonesians.
While the local government in his town and district are supportive, he’s still hoping to get the attention from the city government.
Asep Wahyudin, head of local government, said they are thankful to have somebody that cares enough to give a second chance to disabled children in this community.
“The residents around this area support Tatang’s school and his vision, but we still need to raise more awareness in regard to society’s acceptance toward disabled children,” he said.
And that is what Tatang and his community are slowly doing, as opportunities for children with disabilities remain limited in Indonesia.
In 2016, the country made a significant shift by passing a new law stating that people with disabilities are to be given the same amount of opportunities in terms of employment and economic participation.