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Putting wings on hope

A 25-year-old man is touching the lives of children with disabilities in a Kashmir village. A report by Ashutosh Sapru

india Updated: Nov 25, 2008 19:37 IST
Ashutosh Sapru

Ten year old Zamir can barely stand straight. He has a problem with his feet and also suffers from cerebral palsy, but when he saw me, a perfect stranger, he was thrilled.

He gave me a beaming smile, kissed me on the forehead and played with my mobile phone while his father told me how he was only three months old when disease struck him. Zamir's elder sister had to give upon her schooling to look after her brother full-time so the parents could go to work.

The whole family is now looking forward to little Zamir's operation on Christmas Eve. If all goes well he will walk like any normal 10 year old in a few months.

The very fact that this daily wage labourer from Wayil, a village in Ganderbal, can even dream of this expensive miracle is by the grace of Sami Wani.

Wani a 25-year-old physiotherapist, runs the Hope Disability Centre.

Adil, (14) also from Wayil, attends Wani's centre. He suffers from polio. Sumera Mehraj is only five and has a spinal disorder which has paralysed the lower half of his body. And if Wani is to be believed, in nearby Gultibagh, 40 percent of the children are born with disabilities.

"It has something to do with the water of the area," he said.

The centre is a single-storeyed house with a garden. The children had not come because of the cold and the ongoing elections – so I went to the homes of many of them.

But on a normal week day, the pickup van takes the children from their homes at 8 am. There are classes in physiotherapy, audiometry and for those who can, lessons in sewing, basket making, cutting, tailoring, and even lessons in etiquette.

There are simple meals of dal chawal and fruits for all 24 students, free of cost. The children are dropped back home in the evening.

Wani did his bachelors in physiotherapy from Bangalore and when he returned home he wanted to use his expertise to help the disabled children of poor families.

He got in touch with one Rob Buchanan who did similar work in New Zealand, and the centre was born.

The Wani family donated the land, the Indian army donated a pick-up van, the J&K police began to pay the salary of the driver, and several patrons at home and abroad chipped in with funds or equipment.

"We went from village to village talking to people about various kinds of disabilities and how to treat them or even prevent them," he said. "Slowly people came forward and allowed us to treat their children. All kinds of people, even militants."

Two years ago, the Army enrolled a terrorist's disabled son into Wani's Centre. And though today the terrorist is no more the child still attends sessions.

"A child's parentage does not matter, what is important that he is ill and needs help," he said.