I am Nana Lal Gameti, a resident of a village in the Rajsamand district of Rajasthan. I belong to the Bhil community. My mother tells me that when I was 4 years old I had prolonged fever for weeks. When I was taken to the doctor, he examined me and noticed that I was facing difficulty with physical movements. He conducted some tests and the diagnosis broke my parents’ hearts – I was infected with polio virus and both my legs eventually ceased to function. I remember my mother sometimes weeping for days when she held me in her arms. I have been moving with the help of crutches since. My family’s economic condition is not very good. My father is a labourer on daily wages and my two brothers also do labour jobs as and when they can find them.
Due to my disability, my school days have been very difficult. The primary school I went to was in my village and I can never thank my brothers enough for carrying me to school and back. However, the upper primary school was 3 kilometers away and due to the hilly terrain it was not possible for my brothers to carry me that far. My school helped me get a manually operated tricycle that the government sanctions every physically challenged student. In a few years, the tricycle broke down, my family had no money to get it fixed and I had no resort but to get back to the crutches. Covering that distance of 3 kilometers on crutches in scorching heat was extremely painful but my interest in studies kept me going. I paid no heed when my classmates ridiculed me for my physical condition. They often asked me what I would do after completing my studies, to which I replied, “You and I are both studying the same things; the only difference is that you can move and I cannot. But that doesn’t make me a useless person. I too can achieve great things”. It felt worse when the teachers discriminated against me and did not include me in any outdoor learning sessions, especially during winters when the entire class sat outside, or on the terrace, in sunlight. I was instead asked to stay back in the classroom and study. I knew my education is what I needed to concentrate on. I passed class 10 with flying colors and then passed 12th grade through open school. My brothers who were less educated than me, stepped out in search of jobs while my mother insisted that I stay at home.
One day someone named Ghanshyam appeared at my doorstop and said he wanted to speak with me. He introduced himself as a Field Co-ordinator of an NGO called Educate Girls. He took me through the kind of work Educate Girls had been doing and then came the interesting part – Team Balika (community volunteers). It took Ghanshyam very little convincing to get me on board as a Team Balika and my life has never been the same since.
I now have an identity as a Team Balika, a social worker and a teacher.
I suddenly found a purpose. When I went for the village meets, people did not give much importance to my submissions and were quick to point out that I haven’t achieved much even after being the most educated person around. It was humiliating and frustrating but I kept a strong face as I was on an important mission – the mission of ensuring that every girl in my village was in school and learning well. After weeks of insistence I ultimately succeeded in getting three girls enrolled in the government-run primary school in my village. Two of these girls were dropouts and one had never been enrolled. This is the only school in my village. It has a strength of 45 children and just one teacher to take care of all of them. For retention and improved learning of the girls, I started teaching at the school with the help of Creative Learning and Teaching (CLT) Kit that Educate Girls had trained me for. Children were very happy with these activity-based teaching methods and were more involved in the classroom. The teacher congratulated me on my work and praised me several times when he spoke to other people in the village. He calls me a ‘gem’.
I go to school every day, just like a teacher would, and teach the children. Whenever the teacher is absent or busy with administrative work, the school operates with my support. And if I have trouble walking to school, the teacher and some older boys come to fetch me. I also help mobilize school management committees (SMCs) – comprising village leaders, parents and teachers – that prepare and submit school improvement plans (SIPs) to the Government. We have discussed various issues like the need for more teachers and better school infrastructure and are working on solving them. Becoming a Team Balika was like receiving new life. It helped me regain confidence at a time when I was being forced into a shell. I am not just a physically challenged boy anymore! I now have an identity as a Team Balika, a social worker and a teacher. It’s a pleasant change to witness people respect and not ridicule me. I am now pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree and I aspire to become a teacher someday. My message to everyone, abled or disabled, is that no one should sit idle and curse his/her fate. Every circumstance can be overcome if we do not give up and work hard. If one decides to walk ahead in life, any disability is just a condition, never a limitation!