Defying the odds

Toku Mary wants to practise law when she grows up. But her friend Gangte Yama is unsure.

“I dream about the possibilities, but don’t know if I will be able to achieve them,” Yama said.

Both Mary and Yama are students at Donyi-Polo Mission School for the hearing and visually impaired.

Established on October 15, 1990 by former  chief minister of the Northeast Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, Gegong Apang, with three deaf students at a rented accommodation here, the school has since grown and relocated to a 5.91-acre plot of land and currently houses 87 students.

In the past two decades, the school has been educating differently-abled children of lower income families of the state for free.

Official estimates said there are 33,315 people in Arunachal with various disabilities. Among them is Bullo Tadi, who works as a lower division clerk at the civil secretariat here. Communicating with a pen and notepad, Tadi, an alumnus of the school, was at his alma mater on Wednesday to observe International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Tadi completed his secondary education in 2004 before transferring to a different school, as Donyi-Polo Mission does not offer higher secondary education.

Now pursuing his graduation, Tadi said he faces “no problems” when it comes to his work and life in general.

Having celebrated his 29th birthday a day earlier, Tadi is looking forward to settling down and getting married to his girlfriend Insim who operates a beauty parlour in Dimapur, Nagaland. Like Tadi, Insim, too, is hearing impaired.

Arunachal Pradesh governor Lt Gen. (retd) Nirbhay Sharma was scheduled to be at the school but a last-minute cancellation meant that the school authority had to postpone the celebrations by a day. While the governor did send across his message, he missed out on cultural programmes performed by the students.

Among them was a Bihu performance by young girls who could not hear music. As they sashayed their hips and intricately turned and twisted their wrists, they never missed a beat. One of the dancers, Class VIII student Kipa Sumpa, appeared most excited. Asked if she enjoyed dancing, she jumped in joy and mouthed the words “very much”.

Deaf students of the school dance to a Bihu song.

Deaf students of the school dance to a Bihu song.

After initially admitting only deaf children, the school began admitting visually impaired children from December 2008. The school’s principal, H. Sharma, who has been with the institute since its inception, said visually impaired children face a greater hurdle than the ones who cannot hear. “They are often unable to get the right amount of exercise because it is difficult for them to move about freely.”

A blind student, Rie Koyu, said he was is “unable to fulfil many of his wishes because of his dependence on others”. That, however, he said, will not stop him from pursuing his dream of becoming either a teacher or a singer.

A Class VIII student, Rie has been training in Indian classical music since 2011. While he desperately wishes to become a singer and receives a grant of Rs 1,000 every month from the centre, he says he still has much vocal training to pursue. “Unfortunately, there are financial constraints to consider,” he added.

That the institute faces financial constraints is evident from the cramped dormitories the children have to stay in.

Sharma said the corpus fund of Rs 5 crore just about covers the school’s expenses but leaves no room for improvement of infrastructure.

Students like Dindo Oku, however, do not complain.

Oku, who is partially blind, was among the first six visually impaired students the school admitted. On Thursday, she had led a group dance with nine hearing impaired girls.

Sharma said the institute has asked the state government for an increase in corpus and hopes that more funds will help address some of the infrastructure issues. Pointing to the unguarded gates, he said, “God is our security”.

First published in The Telegraph in December 2014. Link to original story: http://www.telegraphindia.com/1141207/jsp/northeast/story_2432.jsp#.VexWCPmqqkp

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