Every November, when the rest of the world is gearing up for Christmas , planning for parties and the mindless shopping, eating and drinking that has become part of urban life, I feel my spirits drooping a bit, a certain lethargy that nothing seems to cure. Thankfully for me, that is also when I make my annual trip to Bangalore city where my dear friend and influential young leader, V.R.Ferose, organizes the India Inclusion Summit, an event which brings together thought leaders and disability advocates to celebrate the lives and achievements of people with disability. And what a celebration it is- dozens of men and women who have risen above their challenges to become entrepreneurs, artists and sportspeople, among others, who become beacons to others. Ferose also makes sure that the 1000 plus audience-largely People with Disability (PWD) and their supportive family and friends, get to hear and meet up with some of the world’s most admired and accomplished people on this platform.
This year too, the event sparkled with its line-up of speakers, among who were Haben Girma, the first deaf-blind person to graduate from Harvard Law School, an extraordinarily talented and confident young woman who is now an accessibility leader and Felicia Shafiq, a double amputee who conquered her fears to be part of the sitting volleyball team that got a bronze medal for the Canada at the summer Paralympics in Rio.
For me the high point of the event was when 21-year-old Mariyappan Thangavelu, who got India’s its first gold medal at the Rio Paralympics, was welcomed with a standing ovation by the crowd, many of who wept when he shyly displayed his prized medal. And while my heart soared with pride from witnessing his unwavering pride and determination, it was also a moment of scorching shame. How can you and I not be collectively responsible for the fact that dedicated people like coach Satyanarayana, who coached the gold, silver and bronze medal winners in the high-jump category, had to go begging for support so he could keep his students fed during the months of training for the Paralympics, when the sportsmen were living in the training camp in Bangalore city? All he wanted was for someone to give him enough money to be able to afford a modest breakfast of an idli, a wada and a cup of coffee for his wards. Thankfully for him and for us, Ferose was able to step in and take care of that issue and the sportsmen could go about their practice with food inside them. But what about the countless numbers of our sportspeople whose dreams are snuffed out, their hope squashed into the ground every year by the babus who control huge funds that are legitimately available for training sportspeople, but are, in reality, squandered away or siphoned off? It is time we force the powers that be to change their ways. In the meanwhile, we can begin by getting together to build local community support on which our talented young sportspeople can rely on as they work hard to get our country a place in the sporting greats. Sporting legends in the making are struggling by the hundreds in rural outposts and small towns of our country and it can make all the difference to them if we can simply sponsor a shoe, a racquet or just nutritious food for them….
Magsasay awardee Anshu Gupta captivated the audience with his fascinating story of using urban discards to transform lives in rural India. Did you know that the salwar kameezes, lehengas sarees, sandals, costume jewellery and cosmetics that we hoard are used to make wedding kits for grooms and brides of poor families , who cannot bear the financial burden that weddings bring along? Gupta, who set up Goonj (http://goonj.org/) to use the stuff that city people discard and turn them into powerful resources for village India, says that every time we give Goonj a discarded toy, water bottle or even a pair of shoes, it becomes a powerful magnet that pulls a village kid to the school and keeps him there. Or, when we give them used outfits, blankets, or any piece of cloth, it goes into the making of low-cost sanitary pads that gives their dignity back to thousands of women in our villages, who are forced to use unhygienic methods every month to deal with their period. Many of them use saw dust, mud, cowdung… just about anything that can soak up their flow. Some families and communities are so poor that the women in the village use the same piece of cloth, often transmitting disease to each other. Some survive to tell the tale. Some die. Like the woman who used a blouse to stem the flow during her period and died of sepsis from a metal hook in it. Shocked? Then it is time we changed that.
Goonj does not have operations in Pune but works through a network of volunteers who organise collection drives in their communities. If you have things that you want to give away- not torn, broken or unusable- then you can contribute in your small way to transforming lives in village India. Clothes, household items, stationary, old news papers, one side used paper, furniture, bedding, export surplus, generators, medicines, dry ration, blankets etc is used by Goonj to drive development in rural India. Right now is the time for us to bring out those unused sweaters, mufflers, blankets and bed sheets and give it away so that we can save the lives of hundreds who die every year because they have nothing to protect themselves from the biting cold of winter. And if that is too hard to do, just give your woollens to the unseen who make up our lives- the watchmen who sit all night in the cold , watching over us and making sure we can sleep in peace; the domestic help whose kids go shivering to school because she cannot find money to buy woollens for them. Or to the street kids who huddle on streets, finding warmth from the stray dogs who roam the streets.
There is really no greater joy than giving to the needy. Try it.
You can reach her on email@example.com or her twitter handle@sudhamenon2006
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