Updated: Jun 6, 2018
After joining the Sashakt Campaign last month, I saw many kinds of people I never thought I would get to see up close. Because of this, over the past few weeks, I've had to contemplate a lot about issues that I had never paid a lot of attention to. Blindness, deafness, not being able to walk; these are all issues most people talk about but rarely encounter directly.
Recently, during my visits to disability centers, I met a 13 year old boy named Rajesh Maharana, who changed my perspective about the life of the differently abled community. Rajesh is completely deaf, which means his hearing will not improve or return even if he uses devices to aid himself. I first though to myself that he must be having a difficult life. Not being able to hear anything must be really hard. For me, the thought of not being able to hear my family and friends was almost haunting. But Rajesh seems to enjoy life nevertheless. He is a very smart child, who excels at sports. Not just that. Rajesh loves to draw, to dance and to do Yoga. His mother said that he is a big mischief maker in their house. Rajesh and his older brother create a ruckus all the time when they're left alone. It really lightens my heart to see the amount of love he's getting from his family. In no way is he treated any less than the others. He goes to a school where there are many hearing impaired children like him. Though he is not academically gifted, he is an independent boy who knows how to cook, how to fix cycles, TVs and other common household machines.
I asked his mother about the changes she observed after the he became a part of the Saksham Campaign (conducted by Swabhiman in 2016-17). She said, "There has been a very positive change in his attitude. Ever since he has been going to the Saksham Center, he has learned what it means to be a part of a group. He has been getting speech therapy and can now say 'Mama' and 'Baba'. We are glad he has many friends here. He loves coming to the center."
His mother also says how he has been able to learn the alphabet in the center, and also raises her concern about the state of the education facilities provided to the disabled in government schools in India. In her words, "The school teachers are very friendly towards the children but they are not equipped with the necessary skill set to be able teach children like my son. Unfortunately, as we are not a very economically strong family, it is hard for us to send him to special private schools. It would be good if the government could hire special teachers to every school."
Rajesh seems to be happy with his life right now. In a way, he leads the exact same life as millions of students around the country. He goes to school on his cycle, plays with his friends in the evening, and gets scolded by his parents for not studying regularly. But that is not a major issue. In the words of the center facilitator, he is smart enough to "take you to Delhi, show you around, and bring you back home."
Seeing Rajesh stay so happy in spite of his condition made me realize that I am not living life like I should. We should all learn a little from him about how to live to the fullest, no matter how unfavorable the circumstances may be. We should all learn to love everyone, no matter how they're different from us. After all, in the words of Mark Twain, "Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see."