Have you ever seen the look on a person’s face the day they get their first job?
It’s a look that says:
“I matter. I’m important. I have a contribution to make.”
Raju joined Karuna Vihar School at the age of eight. He was a shy, quiet child who had repeatedly failed in mainstream school and whose parents finally brought him to us in despair. His father was a bit of a tyrant, with little understanding about learning difficulties. To him, Raju was simply a boy who wasn’t trying hard enough.
We worked with Raju on basic skills like comprehension, following instructions, simple arithmetic, reading and writing. Though he was a slow learner, he was diligent and determined and over the years he grew more and more confident about his own abilities.
At the age of 14, he graduated to the transition class of the College for Livelihoods Training and by 15, he began to express a clear preference for working. He was not interested in many of the activities we offered at the CLT. Candle-making, bag-making, masala-packing, household skills – they all bored him. He wanted, as he put it, “a real job.”
Raju wanted to work in a shop.
Our Vocational Coordinator worked with his class teacher to develop the skills he would need to be successful in his chosen career. At the same time, she found a shop in the local market which was willing to take Raju on as an unpaid intern.
For six months, Raju continued coming to the College for Livelihoods Training in the morning, but spent the evenings working in the store. Our Vocational Coordinator visited him there regularly and was able to assess areas where he needed additional skills. She was also able to help sort out personal communication problems between Raju and others working in the shop.
At the end of the internship, Raju was overwhelmed to learn that the shopkeeper wanted to give him a full-time, paid position.
Not only that. The shopkeeper has become a spokesperson for our campaign to employ people with disabilities in Dehradun. At a recent workshop we held for other potential employers, he spoke about his experience with Raju as a turning point in his understanding of what people with disability are capable of. “Raju is my most reliable staff member,” he said. “I know I can trust him completely with money and with my stock. He’s punctual and he works hard. What more can a boss ask for?”
Six years on, Raju is still working full-time in Murari’s Grocery Store at Lovely Market in Dehradun. He earns a decent salary and is a contributing member of his family. His job is a simple one and it’s perfect for him. We see him occasionally on his bicycle, making a home delivery; or in the shop itself, busy arranging products on the shelves, serving a customer or keeping the place tidy. He nods and smiles, but he doesn’t stop to chat.
Raju is busy. He’s got a job.
Neeraj lives in a neighbourhood called Panditwari, just a short distance from our centre. He has Cerebral Palsy and difficulty walking and speaking. One day, Satya Pal, at that time the gate keeper at Karuna Vihar school and also a resident of Panditwari, happened to see him fall down in the market. He rushed over to help him up and after dusting him off and comforting him, he said to his mother: “You should bring him to Karuna Vihar. We can help children like him.”
A few days later, his mom turned up with him and his younger sister. Neeraj was 11 and had only had one experience in a mainstream school – an experience which had been so traumatic he was terrified at the thought of even stepping through the door. The first day he was to attend, he cried so hysterically we finally sent him home, asking his mother to bring him back the next day along with his younger sister, Rakhi, for company until he adjusted to the new environment.
The next day he came with his sister, but stood by the gate the whole day, whimpering piteously whenever anyone tried to involve him in an activity. Rakhi stayed with him for most of the time but every now and then she would nip off to join in a game or a singing session. Each time she returned she would tell him what she had done with excitement and pleasure. Neeraj got more and more curious, but still refused to budge from his point of safety at the gate.
By the third day, Rakhi had given up all pretence of taking care of Neeraj and joined happily in all the different classes – story time, play dough, blowing bubbles, counting and sorting beads.
On day four, Neeraj decided he was ready. He walked into his class and has never looked back since. He is a wonderful person with the most amazing can-do attitude in the world. No matter how difficult the task, he is prepared to give it a try. Ten years later, he is ready to graduate from the CVT and will soon be starting his new job as an assistant at the Doon Hospital Help Desk.
The only sad part of the story was poor Rakhi. When her week of “babysitting” was over, she was crestfallen about having to return to her “real” school, much preferring the fun and games atmosphere at Karuna Vihar. But what goes around, comes around. This year, after completing high school herself, she started as a part-time assistant in our accounts department.