Tuesday, December 1, 2009

'Why are you afraid to hold my hand?'

Over twenty five years ago in a school run by the Spastics Society of India in Mumbai was born a spark of an idea. As a  final year NID student I developed my thesis on ‘Visual Aids and Materials for Children with Physical Disabilities’. I was told by the teachers in the school that people react in the strangest way to children who are differently abled.

An idea about this book was born on that day.  No one wants pity - least of all children born with a disability  such as cerebral palsy. The lines in verse and visuals in the book come simply and straight from the heart. Years later, the excitement when the book was published by Tulika was matched only by my passion to spread the questions, misconceptions, doubts, fears and preconceived notions toward a child with disabilities.

It inspired me to do workshops in India, Singapore and in the U.S. where I created bookmarks, postcards, banners, coffee mugs and fun T-shirts - all spreading the message of the book. In the U.S., among teachers especially, there was an air of excitement on seeing this book at various schools where there was an author-illustrator’s book reading, public libraries or at book stores. Inclusion and mainstreaming the differently abled child is the norm in the U.S, so most of the teachers and parents felt delighted to have a book such as Why Are You Afraid to Hold My Hand? to bring about awareness, raise questions and create a dialogue among children who bring with them a myriad of experiences; from children of different walks of life and at different levels of ability. 

In fact, in Singapore, there was a proposal to develop a book series addressing Cancer and AIDS. In India, the issue of stigma is not an uncommon sentiment. At Goodbooks, through Tulika’s initiative, a fun workshop was organized where children were encouraged to think out of the box. It was good to have a key representative from Tulika, Sandhya Rao, interacting with the children on that occasion. The Hindu newspaper carried a positive write-up about this unique event. Children loved getting bookmarks and the bright yellow T-shirts as a means of communicating this very important message. These children and others who read this special book are the true ambassadors for championing a worthy cause.

Usually verse brings mixed emotions but in this case, less is more. The visual lines have a childlike simplicity and the verses speak eloquently raising an animated discussion of candid responses to the differently abled child’s needs. Commonly, this is born out of ignorance among children who re-examined their own feelings and preconceived notions about disabilities.

In Chennai, India, at The School founded by the J.Krishnamurti Foundation, the participation among children was heartwarming. Children narrated their own experiences honestly and openly. In different international schools, this sensitive little book has already struck a chord in all those who read it. Overall, this an unforgettable  journey of compassion and hope for the disabled child.

- Sheila Dhir, Author