“At times I feel that because my child was born with a disability, I was forced to face the challenge which gave me an immense learning opportunity; otherwise I would have been cocooned within the four walls of my house and never stepped out of the village”—said the mother of Amit Mondal, a 22 year old young adult from Nityanandapur village.
The positive outlook displayed by Amit’s mother towards disability did not come easily; for Amit’s journey so far had been very rough. Although born with a reasonably good health, Amit became a victim of malnourishment very early. The father works in a jute mill which has often been closed for months. It was only when he was one-and-a-half years old that the family suspected that perhaps Amit was unable to hear any sound. Several rounds of visit to the doctors and hospitals started to find suitable treatment for his hearing problem. Amit was given a hearing aid, but he was too young to handle it carefully. Repeated malfunctioning due to misuse of the instrument deterred the family to use it for long.
Amit was initiated into the pre-school education programme of SANCHAR when he was two years old. At six, Amit joined a boarding school for children with disabilities located in the outskirts of Kolkata. However, he spent only three to four months in that school. Being very young, he was unable to stay away from family. At ten, he joined another boarding school for the hearing impaired in Kolkata. With great difficulty, the family managed to meet the expenses of the privately run boarding school and Amit spent five years in his second school. During this time, his interaction was limited only to other hearing impaired children and as a consequence the adjustment with the family suffered. Whenever he came home during vacation, Amit was unable to interact with his immediate family members. Although he was unhappy in the hostel, Amit would insist on going back there as soon as possible. Academically he was unable to make much progress in the school. He started asking his parents to withdraw him from the boarding school and put him in a day school.
The family withdrew him from the boarding school by the time he was 16. The family was always in touch with SANCHAR. Between the two boarding schools, Amit was coming regularly to SANCHAR and continued with the early intervention programme. This helped him to acquire the basic education and other social skills. At 16, he joined the primary school in his village. SANCHAR provided extra support needed to cope with the school work. Amit has completed primary schooling from the village school. Social skills taught by SANCHAR gradually helped him to understand and adjust with the family and the community.
Amit learned basic tailoring from the vocational unit of SANCHAR. At present he is working as a trainee with a group of tailors who supply ready-made trousers to big companies. He is paid Rs 500/- per month as stipend.
As a child Amit was attracted to theater and would always try to go up on stage. This broke the mother’s heart and she was always praying whether there is a way to fulfill the wish of the little child who was different from other children. Her prayer was answered when someone directed Amit to a reputed mime academy in Kolkata after seeing his talent in that art-form. He has learned mime from the academy. At the moment he is going through the five-year diploma course offered by the academy. Amit is already a performer and is taking part in stage shows with the academy. He has also acquired the skills necessary to train others and puts up mime shows in the village during various festivals where he trains other children for the show. This activity not only gives Amit immense satisfaction and confidence, but also helps him to earn an honorarium.
Amit has faced a lot of challenges throughout. He was constantly harassed by others and neglected in schools. Even now he often faces challenges on the street. Very often he is abused in his place of work. This does not demoralize Amit. He has acquired a lot of inner strength to face such challenges. He is determined to master the tailoring skill so that in future he can plan to start a business of his own. At the same time he would also like to continue with the mime and if possible start a group on his own. The skills acquired by Amit have made him socially acceptable. A child who was unable to comprehend the kinship system and family relationships, now takes responsibility in family matters. He has also earned a place of love and respect in the minds of others in the community.