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Speech and hearing impairment were no barriers for the orphan girl from Mumbai.

By Indira Satyanarayana in Mumbai

She takes to water like fish. Afreen Ansari is deaf and dumb. But She has not allowed her hearing and speech impairment restrict her from winning the bronze medal for swimming at the Special Olympics Asia Pacific Regional Games 2013 held in Australia at Newcastle.
Afreen has just returned from her trip to Australia when I met her at the Sulabha Trust for special Education and Research at Chembur in Mumbai, where she is a student. Afreen looks so petite that it is difficult to believe that she has stepped into her 18th year. ”How does it feel having won the bronze medal for swimming”, I ask her. Since Afreen has left her hearing aid at home my question is conveyed to her in sign language by her counselor Kajal Kenia. Afreen says that she is feeling low because she got only a bronze medal while she was aiming to win a gold or silver.
Living in a one-room tenement in Govandi, Shivaji Nagar slum in Mumbai, life has been tough for Afreen. Her mother, the only breadwinner of the family is a widow and has four daughters, Afreen being the second. But Afreen’s extraordinary skills in swimming was recognized by the teachers of her school who not only encouraged and trained her to pursue swimming but also excel in it. Kajal Kenia, the Counselor of the Sulabha Trust for special Education and Research tells me that she not only counsels the students but also the parents so that the parents can guide their physically challenged children. I am particularly impressed by the colorful embroidery which Afreen is doing. Her concentration is impressive.
”How was her experience in Australia”, I ask. Afreen pulls her shoulders together and puts on act of shivering. I understand. It was cold in Australia. The colour of the hair of the people in Australia was so different says Afreen. For a girl who looks frail Afreen has good stamina, says the counselor.” Afreen’s effort has contributed to her success”, says principal Aunradha Jatav who has been with the Sulabha Trust for 25 years. Travelling kits and water proof shoes for the trip to Australia were all provided by the Sulabha Trust, says the principal. The school accommodates students only till they are 18 after which they are on their own says the principal . “What would Afreen do once she is out of school”, I ask the principal. Aunradha Jatav tells me that Afreen is good in tailoring and she could get placed in the garment making industry.
I am taken on a tour of the school. On the top floor is the vocational training centre for the physically challenged. My eyes become moist when I see the effort these physically challenged students are putting in their tasks. The physically disabled are taught jewelry designing, tailoring, they even make agarbattis and office files. “Give us four old sarees in any condition and our students will make a lovely quilt out of it”, says the vocational training teacher. The physically disabled have talent which is not being tapped ““that is the unfortunate thing. “‘They do not want to be a burden on their families”, says Anuradha Jatav, the charming principal. Afreen has brought laurels for herself and also for her school. There are many Afreens in our society they do not ask for our pity, they want our support and encouragement. Let us give them that.
Mrs. Anuradha Jatar, Head Mistress, [email protected],[email protected], 8/3- Tilaknagar, Chembur, Mumbai-400089, Ph: 022-2522-9660.
(The writer can be reached at [email protected])