I’ve known Rhea for four years now. And every day, when I see her, I think of that day when we first met…a flood of memories and emotions comes rushing back.
It was the thirteenth of August 2007. I had volunteered to help children with hearing disabilities read aloud, at an orphanage for deaf children near my house. I had just finished school, and felt that this would be an interesting way to spend the two spare months I had on my hands before college started.
And so I stepped into ‘Hope Orphanage’ for the first time on August thirteenth 2007. My co-volunteer, a pretty, bubbly girl who seemed to be around my age, greeted me at the gate. We entered the classroom we had been assigned previously, and greeted the children sitting inside.
We set about helping the children correctly pronounce the words of the storybook they held… I found it a little difficult to communicate with them, but my co-volunteer bonded with them at once. She slowly and steadily said the words out loud, so that the children could watch her lips and steadily said the words out loud, so that the children could watch her lips, and see exactly how to pronounce the words.
I suddenly realised that I hadn’t asked this girl her name. “What’s your name?” I said.
She had her back to me. She faced me and said, “Did you just say something?”
I repeated the question. She smiled and said, “Rhea.” She went on to ask me my name. I further found that she, too, had just passed out of school, and was about to start college.
A while later, a couple of helpers from the orphanage escorted the children away for lunch. Rhea and I too strolled out to grab a bite at a café nearby.
“Rhea,” I said while eating, “Do you think those poor, deaf children have a future? Do you think they’ll ever be able to talk and live normally? Do you think they’ll ever learn?”
“Sure,” she said with a smile, “I managed, I’m sure they can too!”
“What…what do you mean?” I stammered.
“I have grown up and studied at this orphanage. I cannot hear sounds the way you can. But this orphanage has taught me to use my eyes and my mind to hear. I am only trying to give back a fraction of what this place had given me. It has given me a new life, it has taught me to think little of this…disability. I am trying to help these children to do the same.”
I was stunned. “But you’re so normal! You’re talking to me, and…and, just….you can’t be d…de…!”
“Deaf,” she said. “Yes, I am deaf…So what?”