On the 31st January whilst the UK prepared to leave the European Union, as a total contrast, I was fortunate to be in the welcoming embrace of a truly inclusive community where a sense of connection and belonging is at the heart of all that they do.
As I arrived at SKSN school, near Jodhpur, the children, staff and teachers, a mix of all ages and physical abilities, lined the driveway. “Sneh”, I asked, “do the children do this every time you come to the school?” “No”, she laughed, “just when we have visitors.” Oh my word I thought, all this just for me, these smiling happy children and staff, some in wheelchairs, some on crutches, some with limbs missing (but hearts most certainly intact), some struggling to stand upright, all with huge welcoming smiles.
I stepped out of the car and as I looked around at all these young people a surge of emotion took me unawares and I felt a tidal wave of tears rushing to my eyes. I was greeted by three students, one who anointed my forehead with a bindi, another carefully placed a huge garland of divine smelling marigolds and roses around my neck and a third tied a red and yellow band around my wrist. I was speechless and despite trying to hold them back the tears flowed, such was the wave of heartfelt love that this beautiful community was offering. At the time l wasn’t entirely sure why I was feeling so emotional but on reflection it was a deep sense of compassion for what I perceived as the suffering that all these young (and some older) people must face with physical challenges. And yes of course living without a limb or one that is not fully formed, being unable to walk, to hold things has to be a real challenge that as someone with all her body functioning fully can not really begin to comprehend. However, rather than suffering what I actually saw were happy, hopeful children who were making the best of their lives and flourishing in a loving supporting community were everyone mattered.
I have never felt so overwhelmed and so lost for words but as the children headed back to their classrooms I managed to compose myself to meet some of the teachers and staff. Lessons would be finishing soon so we visited each class to meet the teachers and students and to find out what subjects were being taught. These included English, Sanskrit, Hindi, general science, maths and geography were a young man very confidently shared some facts on Rajasthan. In the primary class I sat on the floor with the infants and they taught me some Hindi words.
I loved being amongst the students and was interested to know what was being taught and how they were learning. I feel very at home sharing information and experiences and facilitating learning in others and can recall how from an early age I would gather up other children in the street at home and use my blackboard to impart some knowledge, although I can’t for the life of me remember now what the subjects were!
There is so much to share about the wonderful work that is happening in the school and the Indiability Foundation website captures it more eloquently and thoroughly than I can in this blog. Click on this link to find out more Indiability website
What I would like to share with you is that I had a strong sense of helping in some way to improve the mobility of staff and students at the school who are wheelchair users. One of the school wardens, Janak Singh, who looks after the welfare of the children, has a wheelchair that is very old and has been repaired many times and whilst he feels very attached to it (after all, as he said himself, “this gives me a life”) it is getting very near the end of it’s useful life. The wheelchairs that the children use are more basic and are also second-hand and refurbished. They are very cumbersome and heavy and very difficult for the children to manoeuvre especially the younger ones. No one complains though, all of them just get on with it and are happy to have some means of getting around without crawling or relying on others.
So after some discussion with Sneh to get clearer on what is needed and how best that might be achieved, I’ve set up a Just Giving page to help in a couple of ways. Firstly to raise some funds to buy Janak a used refurbished wheelchair and secondly to connect the organisation to possible sources of old, unused wheelchairs that can be refurbished for the students. You can visit the page here and gift aid options are also possible if you are a UK tax payer. If just 50 people donate £10 each then we can easily get the funds for Janak’s wheelchair. Please do consider making a donation and share – all of us are truly grateful for any help you can offer.
What is truly inspiring about the school is how the children are empowered to live their lives much in the same way as a child who does not have physical challenges. As soon as they start at the school they are encouraged to do as much as they can for themselves and parents who have perhaps spent a lot of time doing everything for their child (with all the best intentions) are amazed at what they can do without their help after just three months at the school. Many of the students go on to higher education and can sometimes be the main breadwinner in their families, clearly demonstrating that every human being has potential if they are given the fertile soil in which to bloom.
Despite the physical, emotional and mental challenges that these children have to deal with they are the lucky ones. It is estimated that there are 70 million inhabitants of India with disability. The Indiability Foundation is reaching out to these through raising awareness and showing what can be achieved when prejudice and judgement fall away.
After lunch the children have free time to do some self study and to play sport or relax in whateve they way they chose. Sneh had an idea for the girls and we spent a happy relaxed afternoon painting our feet, hands and shaved head (no not mine 😂) with henna.
The children were keen to show me their rooms and excitedly grabbed my hand to proudly show me where they slept. Five or six beds to each large room with just a few personal items. They have so little in terms of worldly possessions yet so much in terms of belonging, care, love and joy – they really are so joyful.
We went to pooja at the temple on the campus which was a rather raucous twenty minutes that the children seemed to throw themselves into with gusto. Then it was time for dinner and I helped distribute the 1,000 rotis that are made every day for the students. Buckets of Dahl and other healthy dishes accompanied by masses of rice were served and heartily devoured. Everyone seemed to have hearty appetites, looked nourished and definitely enjoyed their food.
I spoke with one of the teachers who was also a warden for the girls and had been a student herself. She had a beautiful caring disposition and shared with me how she loved her work which was so wonderful to hear and so precious. I know too many people that live to work rather than work to love or others that feel trapped in a capitalist world and feel they have no other choice and finally those that do love their work but are not supported by the organisation to let that love flow easily to others. If this resonates with you in anyway, then take some time out to question what stops you living a life that you love? And if you love your life and work please do share what makes if joyful for you.
“Never ignore somebody with a disability, you don’t know how much they can inspire you.”Anonymous
The school are always keen to welcome volunteers so do get in touch with them if you feel you have something to share and would like a life changing experience. Accommodation and food can be provided and the ideal minimum time to commit is two months but less is also okay. I feel a stirring to get on and finish my Tefl qualification……..