On 1st April early morning, I landed on the tiny airport of Bhuntar, 10 km South of Kullu town, after a breathtaking flight from Delhi: along the mighty Himalayan range, above the futuristic town of Chandigarh, and finally, with a few acrobatic curves right above paddy fields and stone roofs, into the valleys of Himachal Pradesh; once on the tarmac, you get this exquisite feeling of floating in the pure and light atmosphere of green Kullu valley… and have already forgotten about the grey and polluted sky of Paris!
My “work” programme for these two weeks in the valley is quite busy: whole days in the Handimachal Kullu Theray Unit in order to attend treatments given by our local physiotherapist Kanica, meet new children registered since my last stay, witness their evolution and discuss with their parents, listen to Yuv Raj’s and Kanica’s comments on their work and the project. I will also meet the manager of HPVHA Shimla, our partner association, in order to discuss the progress of the Handimachal project and its future: renewal of work contracts, various organizational points, intensification of our cooperation with local NGOs involved in the field of disability, decisions to be taken in the next few months in view of the potential construction of the future Handimachal centre… A few visits in Manali are also scheduled, in order to meet some of the children sponsored by our association and organize the re-opening of the school for Rajasthani children on 1 May (and meet a few friends too).
On 11 April, we will all be in Manali where our next monthly awareness camp will be held, and once more our dedicated friend Raju (Hem Raj Thakur) is giving his helping hand for the success of this event.
On that day I had planned to introduce the Spanish occupational therapist volunteer whom I was supposed to welcome this week in Kullu for a three month mission but unfortunately her good luck offered her a different opportunity in Haïti with a famous French NGO… This cancellation just a few days ago was a very big disappointment for our team and also for the parents of 50 children for whom we could not offer OT services since Evert’s departure (mid-February). Kanica is doing the maximum to provide activities in order to push back children’s fears and limits, in addition to physiotherapy treatment, but the technique, understanding and creativity of an occupational therapist cannot be replaced.
Furthermore, on Saturdays particularly (last Saturday we had 10 young patients within a few hours), attendance is beyond expectations and it is quite difficult for a single person to take care of every child on an equal basis, even if Kiran « Auntie » is doing her maximum to second Kanica. We try to make parents understand that by respecting appointment times they will lose less time in waiting, but some mothers also find here a good opportunity to share their experiences with others. For some parents who came from distant villages, like this man who walked all the way down from Malana carrying his son before catching a bus to Kullu (i.e. 2 hours by walk and 1 hour by bus, same on his way back to home), the day when they visit our Unit is a “lost” day for farm work anyway.
Kanica will thus feel much relieved when she will welcome our next volunteer, Linda Lefranc, at the arrival of the night bus from Delhi on 16 May early morning. Linda has been following our project since its very beginning and was eager to join our team on her first opportunity, for a short mission (until end of June, originally to work in team with the Spanish volunteer…). On 2 July, Séverine Crampe, who just completed a long mission in Mali, will relay Linda until mid-December, and we hope that by that time we will be able to hire a permanent Indian occupational therapist for our Unit. We are very grateful to Linda and Séverine to have decided to devote so much time to Kullu children, and we know that the two other local NGOs are also looking forward to their arrival.
Thanks to Kanica’s and Evert’s combined efforts, progresses made by some of these children are tremendous and are worth thousand speeches. Young Vishal is our best spokesman since the story of his impressive transformation was published in a local newspaper: Vishal’s hemiplegia was originated byhydrocephalus followed by meningitis right after his birth. He began his rehabilitation treatment in the Handimachal Unit at the beginning of October 2009, at the age of 3.5: although showing some strong signs of activity, the whole right side of Vishal’s body was paralyzed and he could hardly talk. Our treatment registry shows that Vishal and his mother came almost every day from their village Dhobi (45 minutes by bus), a little less during winter months. Results are spectacular: Vishal can now stand alone on his own two legs, the right one is still somewhat weak but he can walk easily, go up and down our rehabilitation staircase; he can also use his right arm and hand, in spite of contractures; he now talks and has no difficulty in making himself understood! Vishal’s joyful attitude and his mother’s sincere smile are the best testimonies of this miracle, consequence of daily rehabilitation exercises and of total mutual trust and understanding with our team. The publication of Vishal’s story motivated other parents to come to the Unit: all their hopes now lie in our hands.
Day after day already, I am witnessing the children’s constant mutations, with humble admiration and unequaled pleasure: faces are full of smiles and laughter, of tears very often (oh lazy Atharav, you fall into such crises!), and in the evening we close the doors of the blue house with new hopes for each of them.
From green Kullu valley, when spring brings unexpected promises, our gratitude goes to those who have generously allowed such miracles.
Dominique, 8 April 2010
View all pictures on the April 2010 photo album