A lot can happen in five years.
This is the story of Gulshan Bibi from Mallikpur, a village 30km away from Kolkata. She is a mother of four children and lives in a large household with them, her husband, in-laws, two brothers-in-law, and their wives. Her husband and one of his brothers makes bags for a living; the other is a tailor. We met her at the TMF supported VAANI Sadhan Center 1 in Kolkata. She has been coming here for the past three+ years with one of her children.
“I have 4 kids – this boy here, who is deaf, he is the eldest. His name is Samir Mollah and he is 7 years old.”
Gulshan Bibi had Samir at her parents house and just a day after he was born, he fell ill. He had contracted a fever and was taken to the nearest town, Kalyani, to be treated. The fever came down and eventually passed. Gulshan Bibi took one look at the condition of her weakened child and took him home right away. He slowly grew better and stronger. He had the odd cold now and then like every other baby his age, and it passed with a dose of medicine. Things seemed fine.
One afternoon, when Samir was around 7 months old, a neighbour came by and slammed the door of the room by mistake. It made a loud crashing noise and startled everyone. Samir didn’t even stir in his sleep. The neighbour found that odd.
“Your son is deaf, he can’t hear anything” the neighbour said.
Gulshan Bibi on the other hand was convinced that Samir was in deep sleep. How could a sleeping child hear after all, she thought.
The neighbour insisted that something was wrong. “If it were any other child, they would have woken up with a fright and started crying”, he said.
Gulshan Bibi saw his point but couldn’t make sense of it.
As Samir continued to grow, Gulshan Bibi began to notice things. Most kids his age started to repeat and mimic what their parents were saying, but Samir didn’t. He was always quiet. Gulshan Bibi then made the decision to take him for a check-up at Phoolbagan Children’s Hospital. They said it would cost Rs. 1200. She consulted with her husband and they arranged for the money to have the check up done. Samir was a year old by then. The doctors found a problem with the ear but said there was hope that he could speak if an effort was put in to teach him.
Confused and unable to make sense of what it meant to have a deaf child, Gulshan Bibi visited a few more doctors. They all gave her the same prognosis. She eventually put him in a school close by. The teacher at the school gave her a pamphlet from VAANI and told her that it was a place specifically for kids like Samir. She immediately visited and met with Avijit, a Teacher of the Deaf at VAANI. They did an assessment of Samir and ascertained that he was deaf and needed special training. From that day on they have been visiting VAANI. It has been over three years now.
Since then they have been learning together. Gulshan Bibi made the difficult choice of not putting Samir in the same school as her daughter. She tried it once and he got into a lot of fights. At the Sadhan Center she saw Samir progress. She realised that she had to put in as much work as he did, and in the process learned so much more about herself. The simple act of travelling 30km by bus everyday meant learning bus routes and being confident about taking public transport. She says that many kids like Samir get lost easily because they don’t know what buses to take and that she wants to make sure he doesn’t have that problem. Samir has now learned which stops he needs to get off at.
“The fact that I come all the way here from my home so far away, it’s not a sign of my strength or courage. It’s because my son is with me.”
Even her sisters-in-law never go out of the house alone
She is sure that Samir needs to go to school and that all children must receive a proper and full education. She plans to put Samir in the Rajabajar school, where they not only teach kids but they also prepare them with life skills to taken on the world. Gulshan Bibi adds, “He’s going to have to learn to distinguish good from bad in the world. Is there any benefit in shielding him from all this?”
Gulshan Bibi talks of all the benefits of Samir coming to VAANI. Aside from all the training Samir gets with learning the alphabet, the names of different fruits and vegetables, numbers, emotional skills and much more, Gulshan talks about how much she learns.
“Once they told me that I need to make little squares of card and write one letter of the alphabet in each square so that I could go home and replicate what was being taught in class. I had to make a set of letters to keep at home. But I couldn’t afford any card, now what should I do? Then I had an idea…my brother-in-law is a tailor and he has many scraps of this cloth lying around. So I gathered up a whole lot of these, cut them to size and made my son’s alphabet cards out of cloth!”
Whether it is stepping outside your house in a community where women mostly don’t, learning new bus routes, or providing an education, these are simple, everyday stories of courage. This is Gushal Bibi’s story.
They say the first five years are the most important in a child’s life and making a connection with your child as a parent is the most gratifying of human experiences. Why should this be denied to anyone? Thanks to TMF’s generous support of VAANI’s work in childhood deafness, children like Samir are learning to integrate, and mothers like Gulshan Bibi are finding a voice along with their children.