Empowerment with Dignity Through Mobility
I had the blues
’cos I had no shoes
Until I went into the street
And saw someone
Who had no legs…
On Sunday last the Global Rainbow Foundation (GRF) in collaboration with Esquel (Mauritius) held a function themed ‘Celebrating the Gift of Mobility’ at the Octave Wiehe Auditorium in Reduit. It was the closing ceremony marking the successful completion of the two phases of the Jaipur Foot Project, and also the launching the Mahaveer Indradhanush Artificial Limb Centre in Mauritius.
The founder-President of GRF is ex-minister and ex-Unesco Director Prof Armoogum Parsuramen, and the people of Mauritius owe him great gratitude for this laudable initiative of providing artificial limbs free of charge to those undergoing amputation.
In doing so in partnership with the Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti (BMVSS), he is rendering a tremendous service to and meeting an acutely felt need of local patients, about 300 of whom require to be fitted with artificial limbs every year. Unfortunately and sadly so, the country has not been able to provide them with an adequate and prompt service in this respect and they face enormous difficulties in obtaining the prostheses. The initiative of Prof Parsuramen has made a dramatic turnaround in this situation, and as an orthopaedic surgeon myself I express my personal thanks to him and on behalf of all patients who now can be rid of any apprehension about being provided with the means – the gift – of mobility once they have been operated upon.
Already, in the two workshops held, with the technical team of BMVSS coming over fully equipped and using the Recreational Centre at Pointe-aux-Sables as a venue, the ‘Fitment Camps’ as they were called, have already attended to nearly 300 patients in need. Several of them were present at the ceremony to give testimony of the transformation that has taken place in their lives as a result of their newly-found mobility with their efficiently fitted and comfortable artificial limbs, which are light and durable as well as cosmetically and functionally close to the human limb. After years in some cases, they were suddenly able to lead a normal life instead of being confined to wheelchair or condemned to use crutches. And normal life means walking about, running, playing, swimming, climbing trees, kneeling for prayers – and even dancing, as one lady showed in a video-recording. This newly-regained autonomy was no less than liberating for them, and their moving testimonies clearly demonstrated this.
With autonomy comes dignity, and this is enhanced when these patients are able to go back to gainful employment – which has already happened and is going to continue what with the Esquel group, besides providing financial support through the CSR scheme, having, further, assisted in training one disabled and employing him, with the possibility of doing more along these lines in future.
Other stakeholders (Ministries of Social Integration and Economic Empowerment and of Social Security) are also collaborating actively and, going forward with this multi-stakeholder support, Prof Parsuramen announced the setting up of the Mahaveer Indradhanush Artificial Limb Centre and signed an MoU with the founder of BMVSS, Mr DR Mehta who had come over from New Delhi for the ceremony.
The centre will be built on a one-acre plot of land situated at Pointe-aux-Sables put at the disposal of GRF by the government through the Ministry of Lands and Housing. A technical team of the BMVSS will be present at this centre to get it going and to train local personnel. As announced on that day, Mr DR Mehta has already taken the additional engagement of donating annually a certain number of motorized wheelchairs, crutches and prostheses to supplement those that will be made available by GRF through its own funding resources – all for free.
It is to be noted that GRF has also helped non-amputees with lower limb paralysis by providing them with motorized wheelchairs, as well as extending aid to the visually disabled. Although the core activity of the new centre will be in relation to artificial limbs, it will continue to extend assistance to the visually disabled, as well as appropriately train the disabled to render them suitable for ‘adapted’ employment.
Started in 1975, with the fitting of 59 Jaipur feet during that year, BMVSS is a non-profit social enterprise staffing 20 centres across India and servicing 65,000 patients each year. It has grown to be the world’s largest limb fitting society based in India, and has to date provided free over nearly 465,000 world-class artificial limbs, along with rehabilitation aids (calipers, crutches, sticks, splints, braces, etc), tricycles and wheelchairs, hearing aids as well as surgery – a total of nearly 1.4 million to physically-challenged individuals below the poverty line.
What is of singular interest is the inspiration that led to setting up the BMVSS and the GRF. Mr Mehta, who was presented by Mr Sinhgvi – the ‘bridge’ between Prof Parsuramen and Mr Mehta – himself had suffered a lower limb problem when he was young, that took over a year to recover. This adversity he turned into an opportunity and a service to others by setting up BMVSS. In his address he cited two quotations which had moved him to action for the disabled. One was from Mahatma Gandhi, that ‘A good man is one who senses the pain of another’, and the second one was from Dr Albert Shweitzer, ‘Let us all join the fraternity of those who bear the mark of pain.’
As for Prof Parsuramen, he confessed that he was inspired by his guru’s words, ‘Start God’s work and he will complete it for you.’ There can be no more noble mission in life than to selflessly serve one’s fellow human beings; indeed, as Swami Sivananda (himself a doctor and founder of the Divine Life Society) said, ‘Service to man is service to God.’
There are innumerable ways of serving, and the smallest gesture can mean a lot to the one who is the recipient. It is not beyond anyone’s capacity, in whatever situation s/he is, to render service in one way or another, selflessly, without expecting anything in return. It gives one true joy to know that one’s action is helping to bring some light into the life of some needy person. If only each human being took awareness of that, we would have been spared all the numerous conflicts and the intolerable sufferings that they are inflicting on the millions of innocent people around the world since time immemorial.
I know that as long as darkness prevails in the hearts of men, this wish is utopian. Let us be thankful therefore to those who take the small steps that represent giant leaps for others…
* Published in print edition on 25 July 2014