Left to right: Vishal, Gopal, Laxman, Nathji
“Disability is the Inability to see Ability” – Vikas Khanna
It seems like this quote best describes exactly what I’ve been seeing all my life. Although none of us have a physical or mental incapability, we create these insecurities that stop us from reaching our full potential. Today I spent most of the day at the school/orphanage getting to know the kids at Mamta School. Although I was in a school/orphanage for disabled children, it didn’t feel like it. My goal has always been to inspire these children to break through the barriers of society, but if anything, it feels like they inspired me.
Sangitaben, Me, Rinaben
I not only got to know each of the children, but I also learned about each of their families. I also learned a little about the teachers and became a lot closer to them than I thought I would. We asked one another questions and learned about each other’s lives. Even though we live in what it feels like two different worlds, we had so much to talk about. Rinaben lives in Hitmatnagar (where the school is located) with her husband and in-laws. She comes to the school at 10 am and leaves at 5 pm. Sangitaben is the second teacher who is the housemother. She takes care of the girls and stays at the school 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Because Mamta School doesn’t receive government funding, I found out that the teachers get paid just $45 per month. These women are young, have college degrees and are able to work at any other school they choose. Instead, they choose to work at Mamta School. Throughout the day, I saw that the teachers treated the children just as a mother would.
Kinjal (in front), Sapna, Kapila
Rinaben began to tell me about the families that some of the kids came from. I had the opportunity to meet Nikesh, Sapna, Kapila, and Kiran’s families yesterday, but not every family was as supportive and unbroken like theirs. They may have come from one of the poorest villages, but those kids came from a support system made up of parents, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and so on.
I first learned about Kinjal’s family. From the beginning of the day I saw that she is an incredibly intelligent little girl. I assumed she was blind from birth, but Rinaben told me she lost her eyesight when she got sick. The doctor told her mom that her eyesight would be back within a few days if she was given proper soups and vegetables. There was no way her mom could afford proper meals like the doctor said, so Kinjal’s blindness remained permanent. I also learned that Kapila’s disability as well has her brothers were preventable. They could have gotten surgery from a young age, but their families couldn’t afford it. As they grew older, their conditions worsened and surgery was no longer possible.
Hitesh (left) and Jignesh (right)
Rinaben then went on to telling me about Hitesh. Hitesh is autistic, has muscle movement issues, and is also epileptic. He’ll have an episode about once a month and is currently undergoing treatment. Hitesh has a way of putting a smile on your face while being mischievous at the same time. Rinaben went on to tell me that although he is one of the youngest in the school, he is the smartest.
Hitesh often recounts memories from when his alcoholic father would hit him and his mom regularly. If he was not in the school, his mother’s brother would be taking care of him. Rinaben told me that it is best he’s here in Mamta School because he’s cared and loved for even more than he would be in his own home.
Laxman (left) and Badal, Back: Mahesh
There were two other boys, Mahesh and Laxman who came from one of the poorest areas in Gujarat a few hours away. The other teacher, Sangitaben also came from that area and told me parents will often sell their daughters in groups of around 5-6 girls to older men who will go onto selling the girls to someone else. This is what happened to Mahesh and Laxman’s sisters who were around 20 years old. This is something I’ve always heard about, read about, and knew happened. However, I never thought I would have this close of a connection with someone who has experienced this. I’m astonished that girls my age are being sold and it’s taken so casually. Laxman and Mahesh’s oldest sister was sold as a bride while his second sister was sold to a man who also took a few other girls. These girls are sold for as little as 3 US dollars. It’s overwhelming and also frustrating to learn new things like this and not know where to start to make a difference.
Despite their background, their families, and disabilities, you wouldn’t think they had anything wrong. I can’t be any prouder that Aahana has the opportunity to work with these kids and make a difference in their lives.
Rajesh, Mahesh (back), Kiran, Tirth