Recently a Friend of VAANI, Farzanah Gangjee, joined our Deputy Director – Resource Mobilisation, Nishka Crishna, on a field visit to Pandua, West Bengal to be a part of the World Disability Day celebrations hosted by our partners PPKS. She wrote to us about her experience there.
I had always heard about the amazing work being done by VAANI and its partners but had never had the chance to see any of it first-hand. When I was invited, therefore, to attend a United Nations World Disability Day event hosted by the Pandua Pratibandhi Kalayan Samiti (PPKS), I jumped at the chance. PPKS, under the able guidance of Sheikh Hasan Ali and Purabhi Pramanik, has been one of VAANI’s strongest partners in the region and my field trip on December 3rd, 2015, made it abundantly clear exactly why this collaboration has been so effective. Simply put, the level of organization combined with a sincere desire to effect change at a grassroots level make the PPKS-VAANI partnership a winning combination.
We began the morning with a rally. A group of children with a wide range of disabilities, their parents, teachers and well-wishers were led through the town of Pandua by local and block officials, all proudly sporting white PPKS hats and their Sunday best. In the age of the omnipresent mobile phone, we tend to forget how effective “old-fashioned” outreach tactics can sometimes be. In places where outdated beliefs still prevail about the sins of mothers being borne by their disabled children or the existence of disabled children being a mark of shame on a family, seeing over a hundred people marching through the streets in support of such families still leaves a lasting impression. When such a large and varied group not only denounces the shunning of disabled individuals but announces, loudly and clearly, that they are owed the same rights as the rest of the population, one is bound to sit up and take notice.
We marched past VAANI’s new centre a stone’s throw from the local train station and I learned how the area’s hearing-impaired children finally have a place of their own to gather to attend to their specific needs. PPKS recognized, a while ago, that these deaf children can often be well-integrated into mainstream educational environments. All they and their families need is a little extra guidance to get there. It is at this new, easily-accessible location that VAANI works with the children and their family members to teach strategies to encourage communication, supplement traditional teaching methodologies and improve basic, but crucial, life skills.
With the work of the morning behind us, we then got down to the serious business of celebrating in earnest! This, after all, was what so many families had travelled and got dressed up for — a break from the hard work of surmounting daily obstacles and the chance to just have fun with these beautiful children. The rest of the day’s events were held on the grounds of a local Christian school, a delicious lunch was provided by the community to all attendees and, as the music echoed through the town, many more of its inhabitants stopped by to watch the afternoon’s events unfold. All of these, I realized, were examples of Hasan Da and Purabi Di’s ability to galvanise the local community to work together for a worthy cause. This description, however, makes it all sound rather lofty and, well, boring and I can assure you it was anything but. The images that stay with me are ones of big smiles plastered on the faces of the three little boys who raced each other up and down the field multiple times in a row despite obvious disabilities, the palpable determination of mothers who were going to win that antaakshari contest no matter what, the pride of the carefully made-up little girls as they danced and sang on stage, the love on the faces of the fathers as they signed with their deaf kids and the independence of the young disabled couples who have figured out how to earn a living. Of course, encompassing it all was the love and care of the teachers, volunteers and financial supporters who are the cornerstone of this extremely organized, effective and rigorous partnership. It is through them that true social change is permeating India. I can’t wait to see what comes next!
Farzanah Gangjee was born and raised in Kolkata where she attended La Martiniere for Girls. She received a bachelor’s degree from Smith College, Massachusetts, and an MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business. She has held the position of Vice President at the LanguageWorks, Inc., a language services firm based in New York City and worked as a consultant at ACME Business Consulting in Portland, Oregon. She currently resides in Houston, Texas, but returns to Kolkata on a regular basis to partake of her mother’s cooking.