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Reflecting Poole

Kindness Counts


 

Let me liveor let me die.

Those are the words of Ramachandra, teacher at Akshaya Kshetra, a school for children with disabilities in Renigunta, about 20 miles from Tirupati, India, where Im based at the Sri Padmavathi Womens University as a Fulbright Scholar and lecturer.

Thats Ramachandra and his wife in the picture below. Ramachandra, at the age of two, contracted polio and has been unable to use his legs ever since.

 

Life is constantly thrusting at us random realities that we can either accept or deny. One day, about two months ago -- every day seems like an age here in India where my experiences are so frequently fresh and new, like those of a new born baby -- there was a knock at my guest house door.

In walked Thasleema, with her friend Madhu. (Thats Thasleema, wearing the off-white sari third from the left in the front row of the group picture below.) Id never met Thasleema before. I had met Madhu. Wed bumped into each other by chance at a home for the elderly and children with severe disabilities who have been abandoned by their families.

Madhu was at the home with some of his Hindu friends, distributing food to the old folks. Ours was a chance acquaintance, like ships that pass in the night. I never expected to meet him again. But wed exchanged business cards, so anything was possible.

 

A few days later, along came Thasleema and Madhu to visit with me. Thasleemas about to defend her doctoral dissertation. Any day now, shell be Dr. Thasleema. Her area of expertise is special education. She lives to help people with disabilities.

What do you recommend I do now that I have my doctorate in Special Education? she asked.

Why dont you start a school for children with disabilities, was my reply.

Akshaya Kshetra, Thasleema's school for children with disabilities, has been open now for two months. Akshaya Kshetra is a beautiful place. Its out in the countryside, surrounded by the sun-burned, fractured, gnarly hills of the Eastern Ghats, with lush green rice paddies nearby. The school grounds are kissed by a steady, cooling breeze that softens the air, especially at dusk, and sighs soothingly across the wide open plain.

Paradise.

But paradise with a purpose. These children need help. The challenge is well nigh overwhelming if one dwells on the huge scale of human suffering, of human disability. We all suffer, of course. Indeed, we all have disabilities of one sort or another. But there are so many whose suffering is extreme.

Ramachandra has been without the use of his legs since the age of two. In the United States, with all our magnificent medical care and limitless supply of cash, 54 million people are registered with a disability. Thats one person out of every five or six of the population. If your family doesnt have someone in it with a disability, count yourself lucky.

In India, the ratio must be at least equal to that of the United States. So I estimate that around 180 million people in India are living with a disability. From what Ive seen, many, many more of those people than in the United States have a severe disability, like Ramachandra.

But people with a disability dont want our sympathy. They want our empathy; they want us to understand their plight. They dont want us to feel for them; they want us to feel with them. Above all, they need our help.

Thasleemas husband, Latif, who has supported her through school and who provided the seed funding for this venture of hers, was on hand for my visit. Latif and Thasleema are Muslim. Madhu is Hindu. Im Christian. Latif, Madhu, and I joined hands and had our picture taken to capture the simple symbolism of our common brotherhood.

 

Its not about religion. Its about human compassion and human love. Those are the eternal values that make a difference in this world of ours.

Before he got involved with the Akshaya, Ramachandra wrote a story about his life and gave it the title: Let me live Or let me die. Help me, he pleaded. Im trying all I can to overcome my disability. Ive put myself through school and qualified as a teacher. Someone, please give me a job -- or let me off this hellish merry-go-round we call life.

People with a disability, regardless of qualifications, have a notoriously hard time finding meaningful, gainful employment.

Ramachandra's article caught Thasleemas eye when she read it in the newspaper. She remembered him when she came to start her school. She needed a teacher for her children with disabilities; Ramachandra needed a teaching job.

Perfect fit.

Thanks to Thasleema and Latif and the community theyve gathered around them, Ramachandra and his wife of two months now have a lot to look forward to, as the beautiful smiles on their beautiful faces attest.

About the Author

Bernie Poole, an associate professor of education and instructional technology at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, Pennsylvania, has been a teacher since 1966. For the first 15 years of his career, he taught English, history, French, or English as a foreign language primarily to middle school children in England, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia. Poole has published several books related to instructional technology. Two of the latest editions are available free of charge online at http://www.pitt.edu/~poole. He also has developed and maintains with Yvonne Singer the EdIndex, an extensive index of Web resources for teachers and students that can be accessed at http://www.pitt.edu/~poole/edmenu.html.

Author Name: Bernie Poole
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05/08/2007