Pole star in the fog: The Chetna
Moved by the helplessness of her visually-challenged nephew, Naziya Bano, a resident of Bandipora district in Kashmir, self-trained herself on Braille, to be the trailblazer of differently-abled children in her region.
"There's no time for family and I don't even think about them when I am with these children, they so completely absorb me. My nephew, Zufair Ahmad, introduced me to this world which was impenetrable for him and us alike. My father and us resigned to the will of God and vowed to love Zufair like almighty's special gift. We realized that Zufair was blind when he was just 3 months old, we later realized that it wasn't the only think that inhibited him, he was also mentally challenged. He wasn't special for nothing, he is interested in life like all other children and since I was the one he was closest to, I was the one who had to set things right, I had to make his world whole since I was the only one who was educated in my family of six", reminisces Naziya.
Walking the path less trodden to pave the way for others
She turned her back on her promising career so she could be the guiding light in the life of special children that were not even considered worthy of an equal chance. It affected her immensely to see her nephew grapple with the world around as his disabilities were limiting him largely due to the unavailability of facilities for the differently-abled in their district. She was aware of this general lack of apathy towards the special children as there is just one school for the blind in Srinagar, the capital of the state, which was physically unapproachable for most of the districts.
Fortunately an organization, conducting a survey in their district, extended their help to educate her nephew. This new orientation to his world inspired Naziya to learn Braille system so that she could devote more time than the school could. His needs required dedicated effort and this opened "my eyes to the world of so many like him who were not as lucky as Zufai". Some of the parents were reluctant to send their children to schools or were scared of letting them out for more hurt as they were highly vulnerable. Some other parents could not afford the time or means of bringing their children to these schools, much against their hearts' desire.
Education at any cost
Atuned to this misery, Naziya decided to spread the light to others like him and she was determined to make them self dependent and get them an equal footing with other children. One of the children she discovered was an orphan and also severely discriminated against and thrust into child labour by his guardians. This was her most severe struggle as she had to visit the particular household 10 times before she was actually allowed to speak to the child. Naziya discovered a real gem in Jamil and for the child she was the only ray of hope. The child today is a class topper and the school is now finding it harder to find a writer for him to match his caliber and speed. Jamil, jokingly says he is 4G ( fourth generation of broadband cellular network technology) and is aspiring to be 5G to be ahead of times.
Her vision soars high
Naziya is emboldened by a recent news story as a blind student in Pakistan qualified as a doctor and this gave further air to her flight and to her determination of taking her students to further heights. Not only does Naziya labour hard physically and mentally and also emotionally extending herself, but she organizes regular awareness camps at colleges and universities to educate the differently-abled children and their guardians and the need for better infrastructure and provision for the special children. Shaukat, one of her pupils is low on immunity and frequently falls sick. Naziya supports his treatment costs too. Naziya does not limit herself to blind children but educates deaf and mute children as well, she taught herself sign language from Youtube, how far would you go to help others?
Endurance in the face of abject intolerance
"Somethings bother me sometimes, when I am fundraising some people treat us like beggars but I treat all donors alike, whether they contribute 5 rupees or 500 rupees. My strength and sustenance comes from my family who cooperate unfailingly with means and moral support as I keep shuttling between 3 districts to cater to all the 20 children that need me." Naziya admits that it was difficult at first as she shuttled nomadically from one door to another seeking out the children who needed her but her good work and sincere effort appealed to people in due course of time. Today she has another volunteer who helps her and even her niece is learning the skills to support her.
It's been 5 years now since she illuminated the path for many Zufairs. Her world is "full of ayes and nayes, but she deals with it all with her "extreme tolerance".