The road less travelled – a Sense India educator’s journey.
Taking the road less travelled isn’t new to those who work for children and adults with deafblindness. And at Sense India, especially, we have passionate individuals who will no-matter-how-far or treacherous the journey, ensure that a child with deafblindness receives essential care and services. As I write this directly from the field, from the house of a child with deafblindness, I cannot find better words to describe how we got here.
Twice every week, just like today, our two member team (a physiotherapist and special educator) hop on to a 45-minute bus ride from Sulthan Bathery in Wayanad, Kerala to provide services to Sreemanthini, a 6-year-old tribal girl who has deafblindness and cerebral palsy. She lives in a tiny tribal hamlet deep in of one of the many dense forests here in Wayanad. When we arrive, our educators immediately slip their cellphones into their bags as there’s hardly any network. A thin tar road with dense foliage on each side marks the entry into the hamlet but about 50 meters in, it disappears. And a twisty path made by footprints frequently flattening wild creepers, grass and mud begins. Another 50 meters in, we spot deer tracks in one of the prettiest valleys I have ever seen. It is raining; the lush paddy fields in front of us are surrounded by deep emerald hills. All of this looks like soothing computer wallpaper. But as I soak the sights in, I can’t help but wonder where the houses are.
When we pass a beautiful patch of ginger fields, I spot a small brick house. “That’s not Sreemanthini’s house…,” our special educator Shaniba informs me, “…that is,” she says pointing to a cluster of trees atop a hill. From the foothills, because of the dense forest carpet, it is impossible to calculate the height and structure we are about to climb.
We begin our trek through muddy streams and moss covered rocks, slowly. My city-slick feet fail me often causing me to slip and tumble. But I tread on, following our educators. We silently follow each other as the rain manages to get us even through the dense green cover above. After what seems like hours but is about 45 minutes, we reach a tiny clearing. A small mud house with blue plastic sheet covering it, welcomes us. At its bamboo door, Shaniba announces in Malayalam that we’ve arrived while the rest of us pick leeches off our feet. A thin, malnourished young lady opens the door with a bundle of dangling feet in her arms.
“This is Sreemanthini and her mother,” says Shaniba introducing us. At this point of time, my mind is all over the place. Shaniba explains to Sreemanthini’s mother that I will be taking a few pictures of her and her baby. Her voice is frail as she gives us her approval.
Shaniba takes Sreemanthini, who is fast asleep,in her arms. She informs us both mum and baby have been unwell for several weeks owing to the damp weather but Sreemanthini has been regularly receiving physiotherapy.
My eyes wander to the path we took to get here and I cannot imagine how both the educators make it up here twice a week, sun or rain.
With all the chatter, Sreemanthini wakes up and Shaniba coos into her ears. Sreemanthini lets out a bright smile, recognizing her educator. As she has low vision and hardly any hearing, Shaniba speaks loudly into her ears constantly saying, “Sreemanthini.” Shaniba explains she does this so that Sreemanthini begins to learn her name and respond to it. Shaniba then continues to prop her up with her hands as support. Due to cerebral palsy, Sreemanthini cannot sit up straight on her own just yet.
But my mind is still fixated at the journey we just made. We’ve walked for over an hour and a half after hopping off the bus, including the trek we just made. We are in a thick jungle – a tiger reserve full of elephants, bison and bears, too. Our feet have trails of blood from the leeches we plucked yet both our educators are smiling, doing their job and I didn’t hear even one of them complain about how far or truly dangerous this journey is. All they talked about was about different therapy strategies they would like to try. So that one day, maybe, Sreemanthini could sit on her own.
At Sense India, our educators, therapists and caregivers in over 22 states choose to tread roads that one would never take, to find children we would never see and build a futures that none could ever imagine. When you donate to us, no matter what the amount, every penny makes its way up mountains to serve children like Sreemanthini. Thank You for believing in us.