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Challenging Perceptions

A new programme, a new location and a new challenge

Dr Meenakshi Nayar speaks at the Programme Inauguration

for us all at ETASHA. 

This March, we received a sum of money from a very generous donor, who requested the money be spent on providing training and placement for physically challenged young people.  We gratefully took the cash…..and then had to work out how to honour the commitment! Where to start?  We have never before worked with physically challenged kids (sorry if ‘kid’  sounds condescending but I’m hitting 40 in a couple of years and 18/19 year olds are kids to me, no matter how mature or smart they are!) and our centres are not geared up for large numbers of kids with extra needs.  

But problems always find solutions.  About a year ago, Mini and I had met Dr Uma Tuli at her fantastic centre in Kharkadooma, West Delhi.  30 years ago  Dr Tuli founded Amar Jyoti, a charitable organisation that works to better the lives of the physically challenged. Their fantastic facility includes a school with language and computer labs, vocational training workshops, medical centre, rehabilitative care, physiotherapy suite and placement cell and their inclusive philosophy means that able bodied are taught and cared for alongside the physically challenged.  Meenakshi and I went along again in April and we were finally set: we would run our CSWC programme with kids from local disadvantaged communities from their premises. Able and non-able bodied would be taught together, and we would work to find them jobs at the end of the programme. Yesterday was the inauguration and today classes began for kids from local communities.  Lucky me got to take the first class, English followed by an introduction to computers.

Kids drifted in as I was busy setting up equipment, taking to Amar Jyoti’s co-ordinators and checking my notes and I so finally turned around to see 25 nervous, expectant kids sitting before me.  Some had crutches propped up against their chairs, others had no visible disability…….at first….but then I would spot a lifeless shirt leeve flapping where an arm would be…..a leg swaying higher than its partner…..and then during the break, one boy got up from his chair (in reality, got down) and walked using his arms, his backside not more than 5 or 6 inches of the ground.  Until this moment I hadn’t been able to tell which kids were which….they were all just kids. 

During the English class the nerves soon disappeared and they were talking, helping each other, asking questions and laughing.  Some were keen to show off their skills, some shy to talk, but all of them were keen to learn and unafraid of trying.  At one point I asked one boy, sitting nearest the switches, to turn on a fan, only to watch him drop to the floor to make his way crawling to a switch he couldn’t easily reach.  But reach it he did, with a little well practiced effort.  I tried not to show my embarrassment; I had simply forgotten that this was not my ‘regular’ class with my ‘regular’ group of kids.  These kids are as sharp as pins, and are only held back physically, and by the perception we have about what they cannot do.  Suddenly I didn’t feel so bad about my faux pas…..I had simply asked the nearest kid to switch on the fan, as I would any other kid – and he did, willingly.

Our next challenge is to find employers willing to give these smart young people a chance to work.  It won’t be easy, in a city with so many unemployed it may be hard to convince an employer to take on someone for whom they may have to make concessions. It is hard to challenge perceptions about what people can or can’t do.  But who cares for easy?  When you see how hard some of these kids work just to cross the street (or turn on a fan) then easy takes on a whole new meaning.  We have to work to challenge perceptions. We did it when convincing employers to hire kids from slums, and we’ll do it again.  Looking to hire someone or know someone who is?  Go on, give us a call, we may have just the kid for you.

Ian

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1 Comment

Mini Bhargava

Jun 6, 2010, 1:41 pm Reply

Reading your blog is touching, I agree we need to trash our pre – conceived ideas & think with a fresh outlook, & an open mind. In many organizations it is mandatory to hire a certain no. of physically challenged candidates & train them to operate normally.
As you were narrating I can reflect my time with them the day of screening, & I particularly remember the boy who walked on his 4 limbs, & while he was seated there was nothing out of turn about him he seemed so normal.
I am looking forward to continue the challenge we – ETASHA team has taken to help these youngsters to be gainfully employeed in an organized sector of their choice.
ALL THE BEST

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