Kashmir’s specially-abled populace has been suffering due to lack of proper facilities since long now. This glaring absence was greatly felt after the number of disabled persons surged in recent years. Responding to the crisis, Baramulla’s Blind School not only attempts to mitigate the sufferings of specially-abled children, but also holds a promise to lead by an example.
Everything was going great in his hometown Chinkipora Sopore, when Danish stepped out of his school to go home. While walking back, the fifth grader’s head was absorbed in the complex classroom lesson on Atoms and Molecules. In this state, he mindlessly walked towards a belt where civilian protestors were clashing with the armed forces. Even before he could make sense of things and react, a piercing object hit his head.
“I closed my eyes in pain only to open them in the hospital to see darkness all around,” Danish says, inside a lawn of Baramulla’s Blind School, where he’s being groomed to be a learned person.
Overwhelmed with emotions, the boy breaks into frequent sobs. From his clueless eyes, he discharges teardrops, and turns the mood of the educational campus — established by late Haji Mohd Yousuf Khan in 2008 (the year Danish lost his eyesight) — down in the dumps.
“For the next two years,” he continues, flashing a forlorn look, “I couldn’t do much, except cry my heart out. I was trying to make sense of my misfortune and was regularly imploring my Allah, ‘Why? What did I do to deserve all this?’ ”
Given his age, perhaps he was still too young to raise those questions. But his tragedy had seemingly matured him beyond his years.
In that state of utter hopelessness, which was killing his family, Danish would sit in a corner and weep, until one day his relative dropped in with a message: There’s a school in Baramulla, for people like Danish.
It was the School for Blind. His family didn’t give it a second thought.
“That was a phase of intense mental struggle,” Danish says, as his schoolmates lift the gloom of the place by giggling and calling out each others’ names. “While I was mourning my lost eyesight, I had to make peace with it, and move on. So, I joined this school where, with the help of the Almighty and my teachers, I literally regained my lost sight by learning how to read and write.” Learning gave him a sense of empowerment and today he’s a different person.
Danish couldn’t explain the feeling much, except talking high of his specially-abled class and the place where he created a new world for himself.
Among his new friends is a young, chirpy girl, who’s uplifting the campus mood with her liveliness. Her name is Rafiya Khaliq, who like Danish was admitted in the school some years ago.
“After I got admitted here,” Rafiya says, intermittingly calling out her friends, “I felt like I got my vision. I had never thought that life will be so colourful.” Given how most of her tribe is dismissed as being expendable, she says she found a new meaning in life in the school.
“If one has hope,” she says, “one can achieve whatever one wants, especially girls like me. They should work hard and come out with flying colours. Disability can’t stop us from shining.”
Much of this confidence stems from the compassionate and confident life lessons imparted to these sightless students in the school. And, perhaps, in the society—which is yet to evolve a proper mechanism for its specially-abled persons, Baramulla’s Blind School, as per its students, functions like a ‘hope in darkness.’
The school runs from a rented building at Dewanbagh Baramulla and is being described as the temple of social service by its members.
Inside this quiet and happening world, these kids are exhibiting some serious studious skills.
“These specially-abled children have a very sharp pickup,” says Nazia Rasheed, Principal of the school. “They’ve even outshined students with eyesight in many fields. Our children have won many laurels in speech, Naat, painting competitions, etc.”
If given a proper chance, the upbeat principal continues, these kids will do wonders. “We really like to teach them from the bottom of our hearts,” she flashes a smile.
Most of her students—which were once admitted as hopeless beings in her school—are today known for their ability to dream big, and have a will to move ahead in life.
“I’ve completed Braille [a form of written language for blind people, in which characters are represented by patterns of raised dots that are felt with fingertips] and got admission in the University,” says Wajid Bhat, an extraordinary student of the school. “I’ll work really hard and will achieve my dream one day.”
Bhat believes that his school that made him a dreamer already needs larger attention for accommodating more and more people like him.
“I request the government to please consider the needs of our institution and provide us building, computers and timely funds so that we don’t face any problems in near future.”
In the lawn of the school, the conversation among the students seems heart-warming. While some of them pamper each other, others tease one another. The scene reminds one of Leonardo DiCaprio’s famous remark: I got attention by being funny at school… jumping around with a deformed hand.
Proving the Hollywood star right in their own right, these children are even motivating people around them.
And for illuminating their lives, their teachers’ hard work is quite evident from their kind character and positive outlook. “We’ve to work really hard to prepare them,” says Shazia Shafi, their teacher.
Pointing towards the kitchen, the young teacher who completed a year-long diploma in Braille System before taking up a teaching assignment in the school, says, “from messing and lodging to playing games, we train them to make their bedding, comb their hair, wear clothes and also impart moral education to them so that they’re able to live a disciplined life.”
The school also homes children with hearing and speaking disabilities.
“We teach them sign language,” says Naseer Ahmad Khan, General Secretary of Northern Federation for the Blind, which runs the school. “We want them to feel special and achieve more than what other students can achieve.”
Khan’s assertion makes sense when the pervasive scene inside the school looks promising and positive.
“I want to convey a message to all the other blind children: Look at me! I can read, write, sing, and even give speeches,” says Rafiya, the lively student of the campus. “And they should come here, and see the facilities and love given, so that they can change their lives as I did.”
Her progress and that of her schoolmates’ is apparently happening as per the motto of the school, to wipe the tears that are cursing on the cheeks of the bereaved and dejected people.
Given how the sightless are becoming dreamers in the school, the motto indeed stands fulfilled.
Like this story? Producing quality journalism costs. Make a Donation & help keep our work going.