This was a first for me. I always wished I could be of some help to people with the skills and time I have. But never knew what to do. This seemed to be a great opportunity where I could put my time to good use. It felt a little odd to be going to someone's house. I haven't gone to people's homes even to socialise in a long, long time. But I couldn't let that be a deterrent. I got the address and the directions from her - and I was astounded at the accuracy of the directions - and went to her place on the assigned day. And that is when I met Ummehaani for the first time. She is this tall, smiling, innocent kid - well, a final year Sociology student - but totally an innocent kid in her own right.
And thus began my journey of sitting with her couple of afternoons a week, reading her printed notes which she could type out on her Braille type writer. Now, the background story goes like this - she is among the minority physically challenged student in a very normal kids' college, Mithibai. All students are given printed notes by the professors and the visually challenged students get them too. No, the college isn't concerned that printed notes for these differently abled kids is as good as just blank pages. So while the normal kids sleep, socialise, chat on phones, watch movies, study or while away time on social media, students like Ummehaani spend hours together converting normal people notes into Braille just to be able to read them. And I can vouch for the solid number of hours it requires to type out even a single booklet of 4 sheets. This is clearly apathetic on the part of the educational system which charges all kids the same fee but doesn't ensure everyone gets facilities that help them study well. Here is what I tweeted sometime after I started working with her:
What wud take u n me 20 minutes to read took @ummehani92 and me 8 hrs n 30 pages of typing in braille for her to read it.Can u help her? RT?— Suman Kher (@Suman_Kher) July 17, 2015
Meanwhile, we have no choice but to get on with our task at hand. What was more shocking and frustrating was the number of errors - even grammatical - in the notes that the college professors give to students. I'd correct them as I went along and a lot of times Ummehaani herself would be quick to point them out. She is a smart kid despite the lack of exposure that other students her age have. Also, I was made to feel comfortable right from day 1. Her mom, a gem of a person, always ensured that I had eaten something during my session. Her attitude towards life is pretty practical. She never insists that Ummehaani wear the traditional burqa or observe fasts. It's refreshing to come across people who are not staunch believers just for the sake of it but are pragmatic enough to not make religion a matter of inconvenience.
|Ummehaani - happily answering questions for a magazine in Qatar|
But I am trying to make up by taking her to the Social Media Week tomorrow, which is another thing I had promised her. I am sure she is excited. But I am all the more excited. It will be a great opportunity for her to be a part of such an event. I am sure it will open more avenues for her and she can consider better career options in the future.
Spending time with her has given me a new perspective to life. Looking at the world the way she sees it (no pun intended) is so different. Things we take for granted are a challenge for her. It feels unfair but we are just blessed with sight - something we did nothing for. We just turned out to be lucky. She, not so much! With such few supporting systems to help people like her, I hope you and I can make some difference to her as enablers of better future for people like her.
If you wish to help Ummehaani or other people like her, you can become readers - read out notes while they type or writers - write an exam for them at the venue of the exam. Feel free to drop me a comment or look me up on Twitter at @Suman_Kher