“Anything is possible” – this is the mantra that I have chanting since being in India. I have discovered it is possible to squeeze 10 persons into a taxi, a shared taxi as they call it here. I have hair-raisingly discovered it is possible for two buses to pass through a single lane road on a mountain pass a few thousands of metres high. I have discovered that it is possible for two drivers to stop to chat in the middle of the road oblivious to other honking drivers behind. I have been awe-struck by the ancient gompas (monasteries) that have been built, perched precariously for hundreds of years on rock outcrops. And so, a couple of days ago I have seen it possible for some of the kids with disabilities from the Handimachal Project soar across a river and get to the top of a mountain.
An adventure travel agency, Yeti Travels, had generously offered to organize an outing for the kids from the centre. The day started early at the Handimachal Project with the kids and their caregivers gathering at 8 in the morning. It was obvious that all the kids and their parents were excited at the outing. It was a day trip to the Solang Valley. For most of them, this was perhaps the first time they have been out of the town of Kullu because of limited finances or the difficulties of bringing a physically disabled kid out. It was an hour’s ride through the valley. The morning was beautiful with clear skies and the road led us through beside the surging river that had swelled during the monsoon season. In the distance, the mountain ranges gleamed from the sunlight. We were joined by more kids from the Manali centre and the special learning centre of Daystar school at the destination.
Then it was a short trek before we reached the gurgling small river. Our hosts set up three river crossings. The children then took turns being strapped to harness and helmets and they had to repel across and back the small river. The older and more able bodied kids went first and many were thrilled by the excitement of the adventure and their new found physical prowess. Then it was the turn of the younger and the more physically involved kids. Naturally most of them were fearful and it took much coaxing to get them anywhere near the ropes and the water. It was only with wonderful patience, persistence and determination that we managed to get them safely secured onto the harness and ropes and then zoomed they were off. Some continued screaming in protest but most became thrilled with zipping high above the surging waters.
It was amazing seeing these kids, some who cant even sit without support or move their hands and legs defying gravity at last. Even for those with more cognitive impairments and attention issues, the activity saw them responding to the instructions and settling into a more focused awareness. The parents who were initially hesitant about having their child do the river crossing became emboldened by the achievements of the other kids and bravely lined their kids in turn. Many of the parents were surprised by the courage of their child.
Lunch was prepared by our hosts and it was a sumptuous meal fit for rajahs! After lunch, everyone gathered outdoors and were given drawing papers and crayons. The children drew and coloured and our friends gathered and sang. It was heartwarming to see the kids draw or run about playing or just sitting in their parents’ laps admist the beautiful setting of the sweeping mountain ranges. And I thought to myself, this is what community inclusion and living is all about - people reaching out, supporting and most of all, being with each other. After the songs and drawing, the children were treated to a ride on the trolley up the mountain. In one day, these children crossed a river and ‘scaled’ a mountain - a big and wonderful adventure!
In India, some have the belief that children with disabilities have been cursed by spirits. It is sometimes difficult to watch families especially those who have little, struggle with both the material scarcity and the social stigma. Yet that afternoon what I saw was the blessing these children received. The blessings of generosity from the friends from Yeti Travels; the blessings of passion, commitment of the staff of the Handimachal project; the blessings of their parents who love and care despite the difficulties; the blessings of courage and determination of one woman, Dominique Dufau who saw the need, started and kept the whole project going. And I see these children who have to metaphorically cross so many invisible rivers and mountains in their lives blessed by devtas.
On the way back, in the bus, the driver put on his cd – a collection of Hindi folk tunes. Everyone started singing and clapping in rhythm to the music. Almost a Bollywood scene. There was such a joie-de-vivre. Even the little girl who is hearing impaired impishly clapped and swayed to her own rhythm. When we got stuck in a traffic jam, nobody seemed to mind and continued singing and clapping. I could see that everyone was tired from the outing but there was a palpable sense of joy. As the bus sped homewards towards Kullu and the stars climbed out into the night sky, I could feel the bus rollicking from the sheer happiness of the passengers.
Wai Ming Leong, OT volunteer from Singapore
(who just finished his mission in Kullu)
Thank you Wai Ming for the lively narration of this exceptional day. And all our gratitude to our friends from Manali (including Yeti Travels, Himalayan Frontiers and Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports) for supporting the Handimachal team's initiative.
See a selection of pictures here:
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