20th April’ 2009, marked the beginning of a new chapter in my life when I joined Noida Deaf Society as a Programme Manager. Working with Deaf youth was a first time for me. In fact the whole issue of disability was completely new for me. When I took the decision to join NDS – I really did not know what was driving me. I definitely did not know the language of the Deaf nor had any special skills of working with Deaf people. I did not have any prior special attachment to the issue either. And I did not even have any Deaf people in my family. As a matter of fact I had never even come across a Deaf person in my life except once when I had visited NDS as part of my work with the organization I was working for previously. So was it money? Most definitely not!! Big, famous organization? No again!! NDS was a small organization and little known at that point of time.
In fact my parents were at a loss in making sense of my decision especially my mother. She had never heard of NDS. Much like me, she had never ever thought of Deaf people in her life. Her biggest and valid concern was how I would interact with them.
Well, in life there are certain decisions you happen to just take. You don’t feel the need to weigh any pros and cons but just happen to know what is it that you have to do. That is exactly what I felt when taking the decision to join NDS. Not to say that I felt no anxiety- yes I spent many sleepless nights, did some pep talking through letters to myself (I have a strange habit of writing and cheering myself up :-)). Yes, so I did all of that and for some strange reason fought with my mom too and blamed her for not being supportive enough!!
I knew about NDS’s work and the lady behind the organization- Ruma Roka. I had met her during my visit to the organization for some partnership project on behalf of the organization I was working with earlier. When I met Ruma, her passion clearly reflected in her eyes and yes in her hands. It was something extraordinary to see her communicate with her students in Sign language. The rapid gesturing of the hands, of course making no sense to me, meant a whole lot to the Deaf person she was signing to. The whole energy of the place totally enthralled me. I went back to my office but the memory stayed with me. I knew someday I would come back. But I was thinking more in terms of volunteering as NDS was so close to my house. Little did I know what was coming my way!!
Also at some level, I think I believed in Ruma. I had been truly bowled over by her and knew that I had to be with her in this mission of changing someone’s life for the better. It is her heart that drives NDS. It was the same heart that at some level was driving me and calling out to me.
It is almost 2 years now since I joined. It has been one incredible journey. The road wasn’t a straight, smooth one. I had to first get accepted by the Deaf community. So I started learning Sign Language- the first language of the Deaf. I did not have the luxury of going through a classroom programme. I was thrown directly into the pool and through constant interaction managed to pick up the language. Along the way of course I often made embarrassing and hilarious mistakes signing the wrong signs and shocking the day lights out of the Deaf!! Not a good idea to think of those days!! And yes, it also felt a little strange to not have any sound even when there were dozens of young boys and girls just in the next room. I am not a very talkative person but to pass the entire day without having any real vocal conversations except with Ruma perhaps, sure felt odd initially. Not to mention managing the centres with over 400 students, a team comprising of Deaf people except for 3 hearing people, sure was overwhelming.
There were days when I thought I would completely lose it. Phone ringing nonstop, parents calling to enquire about the courses, students standing for their admission process, parents visiting and wanting to know how their child was doing, students coming in for jobs, candidates waiting in line for their job training to begin, employers waiting for the list of candidates, report waiting to be sent to the donor….and all of it happening at the same time!! And I swear to God I’m not exaggerating!!
But the next day you go to work, enter the gate and there are all these young boys and girls smiling the biggest smiles and excitedly signing “good morning” to you!! And you forget all the madness and then begins another beautiful day at NDS!! Enter Ruma and she gives you the most loving hug, and you are geared up for whatever may come your way. The phone rings.. an employer on the line..saying that NDS students are excellent and they would like to employ more deaf youth!! My day is made!! After much jumping and some more hugging…it’s a happy day at NDS!!
So what is it that I love about NDS? There is of course a long list but what I owe to NDS is the fact that it has taught me to value what I have. Often we get into complaining mode and just talk and think about the things we do not have or what we want. We don’t even think about what we have let alone appreciate that. Our Deaf kids here don’t have two of their senses. They have not heard sound; they cannot talk yet they smile and go about life like there is no tomorrow!! They have taught me to love myself and I can’t thank them enough!! 🙂