A mother for many differently abled

A mother for many differently abled

A mother for many differently abled

She is unmarried yet for hundreds of differently abled children from Uttar Pradesh's Baharaich town, about 200 km from here, she is their mother.

The house of Balmeet Kaurin Baharaich's Kanungopura locality is always filled with hearing impaired and mentally challenged children, who receive education there. Balmeet, who started a school for these children over 2 decades back, has currently 85 differently abled children on the rolls of the school. “We have children, who come to the school not only from Baharaich district but also from several adjoining districts,” says Balmeet.

The reasons is that there is no such school in the area. “Differently abled children from Lakhimpur-Kheri, Shravasti, Gonda, Balrampur and some other nearby districts are receiving education here,” Balmeet told Deccan Herald.

Balmeet, who holds a doctorate degree, is a devout Sikh and a regular visitor to Gurudwara. She was only 22, when she started the school. “My younger brother is hearing impaired. I found that there was no facility for such children at Baharaich or nearby districts to receive education. That was the moment I decided that I would start a school for such children,” she said.

It was not an easy decision to make, she says. “I had to not only convince my family but also myself. On one hand there was my career and on the other was my inner urge to do something for these helpless children,” Balmeet said.

It was a modest beginning for Balmeet. She started the school with around half a dozen differently abled children but gradually the numbers picked up. “Initially the parents hesitated to send their differently abled children to the school but later on they started sending them,” she said.

Balmeet had around that time completed her post-graduation and enrolled for the doctoral degree in Hindi literature. “I had the option of joining some college and becoming a teacher but then there would have been many like me…and who would have taken care of these children,” she asked. And Balmeet refused an attractive job offer from a local college.

“Marriage too was not an option for me. I had an apprehension that I might not be allowed to continue to take care of these children after the marriage. After the marriage there would have arisen several other considerations,” she remarked.

As Balmeet was not trained in imparting education to differently abled children, she joined a course in speech therapy at an institute in Lucknow. “There was no point teaching such children without proper training,” she said.

She has even adopted a few differently abled children. “While a majority of students go back home after their classes, a few stay back,” she said.

“These children stay with me at my house. There is no hostel facility at the school, which is also run from home. After all they are like my own children and I shall be able to take care of them in a better way if they stay with me,” she said.

Balmeet is so fond of children that she even adopted 8-year-old girl Anshika, whose father Anil Singh, a resident of Khajuha Patti village, worked as a labourer and found it extremely hard to take care of his differently abled daughter. “I have decided to raise Anshika as my own daughter. I want her to receive proper education and become self-dependent,” she said.

Balmeet said that many students of her school had gone on to complete graduation. “We prepare them to complete high school and intermediate. We also help them if they want to pursue higher studies,” she said. One of the girl students of the school had cleared her high school examination from UP Board in first division this year, she said. Balmeet rued that society did not accord due respect to the differently abled children. “They are objects of ridicule for society. Sometimes for their families also. It is really sad,” she said.

She said that she knew of at least one hearing impaired boy, who worked at a local shop and developed cancer as he used to eat pan masala and gutkha. In a bid to provide meaningful employment to the differently abled boys and girls, who study at the school, Balmeet also set up a candle manufacturing unit a few years back with a loan from a local bank. “I set up the unit after many parents told me that these children would get employment there and earn something also,” she said.

Balmeet, however, said that candles are not very popular these days. “Candles are mostly bought during festivals like Deepawali. For rest of the year their sale is comparatively low,” she said.

Balmeet feels that the government should set up special schools for such children. “'In the past 24 years no school has been set up for them in Baharaich and other nearby districts,” she said.

Voluntary organisations could also play a crucial role in this regard. “There is a need to sensitise society about these children. We must understand that they too have aspirations and desires like normal children. They deserve equal respect and love,” she said.

Balmeet wants to start similar schools in other districts as well. “People have been asking me to set up schools for such children in other areas also but I am short of good hands. We need committed volunteers for this work. There is also a shortage of trained hands,” she said.

May be one day it will be possible, she remarked with a sigh.

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