If we are to further strengthen our support for individuals with disabilities in Bhutan, it is crucial we also develop capacity and empower parents along with educators and health providers. Only then can we see results in expansion of policy, accessibility, and improved services.
The Bhutan Foundation in collaboration with Perkins International supported two Bhutanese mothers of children with disabilities in participating at the 5th Parent Advocate for Visually Impaired Children (PAVIC) Congress in the Philippines. The two parents are Ms. Ugyen Choden, mother of a four-year-old daughter with autism and low vision, and Ms. Karma S. Dorji, mother of a nine-year-old son who is also on the autism spectrum.
During the three-day congress, our parents learned about the importance of forming a parent support group and their roles to actively advocate for their children. As advocates, parents play an important role in communicating with all levels of society to ensure equitable and accessible services for their children. The Congress also highlighted the importance of having a strong teacher–parent partnership and family-centered learning environments.
On the final day, after networking with many parents, our two Bhutanese parents developed an action plan to initiate a similar parent support group in Bhutan. Such a group would be first of its kind, whereby parents would informally get together to discuss best practices, challenges, and experiences and to promote and support policy changes. This group will be important in advocating for improved support services for their children and eventually in promoting the voice of their children and acting as parent advocates in Bhutan.
We are happy to share that after arriving back to the country, our two parents got together with other parents who were in the same position and instantly started a Facebook group. The group plans to meet once a month and currently serves as the only platform for Bhutanese parents to share information and concerns on issues affecting their children and to network with other parents. As the group progresses and expands, they plan to empower parents by bringing in technical expertise and learning skills to support their children. In addition, since parents know their child the best, they plan to work with government agencies and stakeholders to provide more relevant and targeted support services and interventions.