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Taking the Leap: A Swadhar Experience

Imagine you’re in a beautiful room, full of colours and light. You live in this room, and you like it. You have every edge and corner of the room mapped out in your brain. You could probably move around the room with your eyes closed. Suddenly, the light is seeped out of the room. It becomes very dark. The same room starts feeling different to you. Over time, you forget how the room ever looked like. The walls seem to be closing onto you. You’re afraid to move around. You have two options; to sit and wait for the light to come back on or to find the courage within you to stand up and move past the daunting darkness.

Laxmikant Kamble Reshamaji had a similar choice to make. At the naïve age of 18 years old, in the year 2005, he lost complete eyesight because of which he couldn’t finish his 12th grade. Before that, even though he couldn’t see well from one eye, his vision wasn’t compromised. When he started losing his eyesight, he saw multiple doctors and underwent three operations in five years to no avail. He had lost complete vision. At first, he couldn’t un-see the world he had seen, then the map in his mind started becoming blurry. His world wasn’t colourful and bright anymore. The darkness had enveloped him. He didn’t know how to move in a world that was not designed for people like him. During 2005-2013, he shut himself inside the safety of his house. He alienated himself from the world, anxious and worried. “I wanted to work but, I was afraid of going out. My family was worried about me. I did not know how to cope with sudden blindness, it’s not like there was any training. I felt like if I stepped out, I wouldn’t be able to survive. It was a hard time for my family and me,” says Mr. Laxmikant while talking about his sudden impairment.

With strong family support, a person can sail through the harshest of times. While his family and relatives were looking after him, they were equally anxious about his future. It was on a train journey that Mr.Laxmikant’s uncle found out about Grameen Shramik Pratishthan (GSP). At the station, he saw a blind person walking with a white cane. Curious to know more about the cane, the uncle started the conversation with the man. During the conversation, he learned about GSP and later told Mr.Laxmikant about the organization. Mr.Laxmikant liked the idea but was apprehensive of going out of his comfort zone. He kept postponing it, went over multiple scenarios in his head, measured the pros and cons until his uncle sat him down, and pushed him to at least give the organization a try. With a heart full of worries, Mr.Laxmikant took the journey of more than 150kms from his town to reach GSP’s camps in Latur. “At the campus, I met the other trainees who were also blind like me. I noticed that they were doing things independently. They were much more confident than I was. I realized that if the ones who are blind since birth can take the step to come to this organization to learn, then why can’t I. So, I took the leap and enrolled myself in GSP's acupressure program.” says Mr.Laxmikant.

Mr.Laxmikant receiving the massage therapy

Grameen Shramik Prathishthan started the initiative Swadhar for disability interventions in the year 1984. Under this initiative, the beneficiaries receive training in various vocations to become independent and valuable contributors to society. In the beginning, Swadhar only had training programs for handloom weaving but later expanded to include Acupressure and Massage Therapy course in 2011. As per the standards of ancient therapy, undetectable pathways of energy called meridians stream inside the body. Fourteen meridians are thought to interface our organs with different parts of the body. The acupressure massage focus points lie along those meridians. An acupressure point on the foot might relieve a headache because of the connected meridian. By applying physical pressure on the blockages, acupressure helps relax the muscles. It stimulates the body’s circulatory, lymphatic and hormonal systems. If done right, the therapy relieves stress, anxiety, improves sleep, relaxes your muscles and joints, regulates digestive issues, minimizes headaches and migraines, and is also beneficial for back pain and menstrual cramps. At Swadhar’s rehabilitation model, the trainees learn the theoretical and the practical applications of the process. Through their sharp sensory skills, the visually impaired trainees were able to identify acupressure points accurately and gave the therapy proficiently. Mr.Laxmikant is one of the beneficiaries of this training. Describing his experience at the campus, he said, “I was an outsider so, initially it was hard for me to adjust but, over time I made friends. At GSP, we were provided physical support, acupressure and massage therapy training, taught to become aware of our environment, and our senses. I completed the training in 2015. The whole learning experience was rewarding. Instead of focusing on exams and numbers, they focus more on providing qualitative education. Soon after my training was complete, I found work at a health club where I put my learnings from GSP to use. There, I meet and interact with people from different backgrounds, and I have a source of stable income.”

Mr.Laxmikant giving demo of skills to CEO of Zilla Parishad, Latur.

Mr. Laxmikant made the choice of getting up and going out of the darkroom. He bumped into things, had multiple obstacles strewn over his path but, with the support of the right people and a will to change his future, he took the leap. Mr. Laxmikant’s story is one amongst many stories out there. Grameen Shramik Pratishthan has been working for the betterment of marginalized people with disabilities, providing them a choice and a chance for a better life. However, Covid-19 has brought their progress to a standstill. Like many others, Mr.Laxmikant has not been able to go back to work. Acupressure and massage therapy requires touch and with the social distancing measures in place and the virus everywhere, it is hard to practice the therapy.

To solve this issue, GSP has initiated a Covid-19 relief drive to provide aid not only to Swadhar’s beneficiaries but also to the other persons with disabilities in need. The drive has been initiated in Marathwada region- Aurangabad- Latur and six other districts. A helpline number has been set up and essential support is delivered to the doorstep with the help of volunteers. For a successful relief program, they need volunteers and funds. Remember, we cannot survive Covid-19 alone. We have to get out of this together. You can help the marginalized persons with disabilities find their light during these turbulent times. Please check out GSP’s crowd-funding page, become a volunteer or donate to their cause.

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