As a part of quarterly event for my team, the admin had planned this community service event. I usually bunk all the quarterly events. For this time, I was having a strong urge to go. One of my friends was joining me, so I thought I had the much sought after company too. I had been declining every other meeting set up today inorder to make it to this event. What happens then – My friend is caught up in some migration issue and she is not able to make it. There I was, strongly debating within myself – if I should go alone or stay at office attending all the meetings. I had just 2 mins of time before making the final decision. I throw my laptop in to the safe and run towards the bus. There was a strong feeling within – that I should somehow go in though I feel all alone. I see a lot of groups actively talking among themselves. I know none of them. I go stand in a corner waiting for the bus. After making a quick call to S, to tell him that I am going alone and there by killing some time. The bus comes and while boarding it, I see a few familiar faces. I dont know, I somehow felt its all ok though everyone was ignoring me. I wanted this space for myself. I was composing myself – on how the day is going to be, How would the kids react, What would I play with them.. and there was an endless list of questions. The most important one I had been thinking through was – how am I ever going to talk to them – that they were deaf and dumb.
Once we reached there, we were welcomed by around 40 students and their principal who was a very sweet lady. She gave us some details about the origination of the school – like how it started with just 9 children – 1 teacher in 1968 in a small room, moving into the constructed school in 1971, the first of its kind in Bangalore way back then to develop into a leading school having 164 students – 21 teachers now. She said they are supporting from kindergarten to class 10. Students coming to the school have multiple ranges of hearing impairment and some of them can actually talk. But their most comfortable mode of communication is through the sign language. I could see that they understood nothing of what she was speaking, but were very enthusiastic and excited about the whole thing. It happens that they are excellent lip readers and would need to spend just a week with you to understand what you speak. Their kindergarten consists of 3 years of vigorous speech therapy – obviously they dont have the privilege of absorbing what you speak to them the first time. So, the teacher shows them different kinds of activity charts and keeps repeating the same words every day. This continues for 3 years before they could go to class 1. They are following the state board syllabus as the normal students and write board exams every year getting 100% pass results each time. The only minor difference is that, the languages are exempted for them and their medium of learning happens to be English. I almost had tears welled up my eyes when the Principal completed her talk.
Each one of us were assigned a child and the employees should serve as a kind of buddy to them. There was a smiling face welcoming me, accepting me with pride. She asked my name and showed me her badge proactively. Hemalatha it read. She was calling her friends to tell them that she has me as her buddy. I felt so happy. She kept smiling at me every time she had a chance to turn back and look at me. We were split into 4 groups. Each group was given an activity to make 2 posters with 2 different themes. We had a nice teacher to interpret and translate everything we spoke to them and vice versa. Our team was named “Three Cheers” and we had internally split it into 2 groups each doing a poster. I was sticking to the three girls who agreed to do the toughest poster – “Heritage and Culture of India“. The other 4 boys took over the “Save Our Planet” poster. Initially the girls were reluctant to do the drawing. With some clues and ideas, they jumped in and tried to do their best. Our plan was to do a full scape outline of India and fill in each part of it with the specialities of that state. Delhi – Taj Mahal, Tamilnadu – Bharatnatyam & Meenakshi Temple, Punjab – Bhangra, West bengal – Durga and in the center – we asked them to draw the Thiranga Janda (our national flag). We showed them how to draw each of these and they sincerely tried to copy the idea. They did a great job. We named it “Incredible India!“. Later, the students were to explain the concept and theme to the entire audience. Hemalatha did most of the drawing, so I wanted her to speak as well. She was tensed and didnt know what to talk. Most of the times our lines of communication were penned down. They wrote the questions and we wrote back the answers. When it came to the description, I wrote down all the items that we drew. She couldnt understand what culture and heritage meant and that how to show it to her friends through sign language. She went to her teacher to learn all of it and then smiled at me. I thought of a one line description and wrote out -” India is rich in heritage and has many different cultures. But we believe in UNITY IN DIVERSITY“. She tried to memorize it as much as she could before her turn came, for they all have very short term memory. She even showed me how she would do it sign language. When they showed and described it to everyone out there, I could see no fear in her eyes – only happiness. So were mine – I clapped with so much joy! When they returned, I congratulated them for a job well done. There was pride – I suddenly felt like a mom who would be happier beyond words for her child. All the children did the best. They were very active, participating, wanting to contribute, enjoying our presence. It was the time for results. My team had won the 1st prize for the “Heritage and Cultures of India” theme. I shouted high.. so was my happiness. They couldnt understand and thought they were second since a group had actually won the 1st prize for the other theme. When I explained them that they were 1st, they told every other person they saw on the way. 🙂 We were served the lunch and the buddy should help the child to get the food packet. Hemalatha was very happy with my presence and we both sat under a huge peepal tree. I asked her if she liked the food and she nodded her head happily. She enjoyed her lunch. Post lunch was the games time. She wanted me to join her in volley ball. I politely declined the invite given the fact that I am sports challenged. She happily joined a team of boys in throwing the ball. Later they all played dodge ball and I had the pleasure of watching the fun. At 2.30PM, it was already time to bid good bye to them all. They all ran after us. Hemalatha let her eyes search for me. At the same moment, both of our eyes met and I went to her to say “All the Best”. She threw her most gorgeous smile and said “Thank you”. The silence between us had a greater bond than the words. I learnt a very little of their language.
I boarded the bus with a heavy but happy heart. I have never seen love in its purest form until today from a complete stranger. These children brought a difference to me. They were not complaining about the most difficult life God has given them. They were not complaining about the most unfriendly family they have got. They are just thankful for what God has given them and are taking the happiness from their surroundings giving it back to all others they see. A special mention should go to the teachers as well. They are the world’s most patient people I guess – dealing with a set of children who cant hear and speak. They are very friendly. They know what every single child in their class wants and they answer every single question that a child asks with such a politeness. Its a separate world in itself. The older kids take care of the tiny younger ones. Each kid feels its responsibility. There is freedom. There is joy. There is safety. There is love. There is life for them and they are living it happily. I am satisfied and happy that I was one of the reasons for some of those children to smile today.
Closing the post with the award winning poster from my team – captured from my mobile.