Seeing first hand the challenges faced in developing countries
16 February 2017
Posted by Radhika Dhamecha
After volunteering at Sense UK for three weeks, I went to India to spend two weeks at the Sense International India office in Ahmedabad. I wasn’t sure what to expect or how the office would differ to being in the UK. I was placed on the events team, which I was excited about as I had helped on the same team in London. What struck me the most was how small the team was, as all events were organised by one person. The office was small but cosy, and everyone was really warm and welcoming.
Over the course of the first few days I was talked through the upcoming events that were taking place, the biggest being Sense India’s 20th Anniversary celebration in February 2017. I helped to put together sponsorship packages that would to potential donors, as well as writing up a grant proposal for a major Indian corporation which would go towards the ‘Art Makes Sense’ celebration in February.
I was fortunate enough to have joined when the annual Sense India’s National Conclave was taking place. This three day workshop was for deafblind people, educators and parents, where all travel, hotel accommodation and food was paid for. It covered key topics such as communication, sex education and building confidence, and was a time for people in similar situations to share experiences and make friends. It was touching to hear how the conclave had helped so many people, and for children to meet and make friends as some had found that they had struggled to do so within their local community. I was surprised to see how many children had made friends over the years, and were excited to meet up with old acquaintances.
Some of the people that I met and stories that I heard over the few days were truly inspirational. One particular girl that I met who stood out in my mind was called Pushpa. This was the first Sense India conclave that she had come to, and had come from Delhi with her older sister. She had partial hearing and sight impairment, however over time this was getting worse and the doctors could not diagnose the problem. Despite facing these challenges, she had entered into the Special Olympics in 2015 and had won four silver and bronze medals. It was heartbreaking to hear that due to her disability she did not have any friends at home, and was happy to have met so many people in similar situations where she could make friends. Coming from a poor background, she told us that she wanted to continue to take part in such sporting activities so that she could help provide for her family.
My highlight from the second week was a day trip to various different partner projects, and visiting some individuals at home. During the visit we went to two centres for children with visual and hearing impairment or learning disabilities. Within these classes the children were taught to identify basic shapes, colours, numbers and alphabets. They also provided physiotherapy for the children which in some cases has been life changing. What I found interesting at both centres is that physiotherapists were blind, however they had been professionally trained to treat patients. One of the centres also provided vocational training such as making paper plates, decorating saris and making jewellery. I was impressed that these children were taught lifelong skills that they could use in order to earn a living for themselves in the future.
Our final stop of the day was to meet a man named Rajesh, who I believe is truly exceptional. I had previously met him at the workshop held in Ahmedabad, however it was nice to meet him in the comfort of his own home. Rajesh was born deaf, however as he grew older he began to lose his sight, which eventually lead to total blindness.
I was surprised to see how independent he was, and was able to navigate his way around the small nooks and crannies of the house without any guidance. His mother had told me that whilst she and her husband were at work during the day, Rajesh would take care of all of the housework from mopping the floor to doing the laundry. She had taught him ways to be able to tell when the milk was boiled and how to use the pressure cooker by using his sense of touch.
His parents proudly told us how he runs a local shop producing and selling Indian savory snacks, which involves kneading the flour, heating the oil and cooking the food. Rajesh was so energetic and excited to speak to us, and clearly had a great relationship with his interpreter Deepak. Despite being totally deaf and blind, it was good to see that he had not let this hold him back, and was so passionate about life.
The time that I spent with Sense India opened my eyes to how difficult the challenges are in a developing country. Simple things such as convincing people to register for a legal form of ID or accepting deafblindness as a disability by the government is something that we take for granted, however these are everyday challenges faced by the team in India. Seeing the work that is carried out first hand, and meeting so many people that had been helped by the charity made me appreciate how hard their jobs are, and admire the dedication of the team out on the field who walk for miles to find deafblind children in the most remote and rural areas of the country. This experience is one that will stay with me for a lifetime, and I cannot thank Sense UK and Sense International India enough for giving me the opportunity to have contributed towards such a great charity.
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First published: Friday 7 June 2013
Last updated: Thursday 18 September 2014