Recently, a viral video of a nine-year-old boy caught my attention. The Australian kid, Quaden Bayles was asking for a knife from his mother who was filming the entire incident. Despite his mother continuously urging him to ignore the taunts, the constant bullying caused him to become suicidal and ultimately wanting to kill himself by using a knife. The only fault of the little boy was his ‘disability’ to grow taller. According to his mother, Quaden suffers from Achondroplasia dwarfism, a rare bone-growth disorder that makes him shorter than other kids. The Australian mom, Yarraka Bayles broadcast her pain to the world, “This is the effect of bullying. It’s the constant bullying, the name-calling, obviously pointing out his difference. We are not suffering silence anymore. There are way too many people suffering in silence.” The incident reminded me of a famous quote by Robert Michael Hensel who despite being born with the birth defect known as Spina bifida is a Guinness World Records holder for the longest non-stop wheelie in a wheelchair. He said, “There is no greater disability in society than the inability to see a person as more.”
Just close your eyes for a moment. What do you see? Pitch Black? Now, put your hands in your ears. Can you hear anything? What happens when you catch a severe cold? It is hard to speak, right? Sometimes, you have to use sign language to communicate and it is quite irritating when you get mocked. What happens when you break your hand or leg? It is difficult to do your daily chores, is it not? Now, imagine what happens to those people who go through these ‘problems’ every single day of their lives. Yes, I am talking about them who are more commonly known to the ‘ordinary people’ as ‘blind’, ‘deaf and dumb’, or ‘disabled’ people.
In 2017, I appeared for the SSC (Secondary School Certificate) examination, a public examination in Bangladesh for the 10th-grade students conducted by the educational board as the completion exam of secondary education. After the tiring exam, I had a long vacation of 3 months and was thinking of ways to utilize my spare time. When I asked my father about it, he advised me to work as a volunteer at PROYASH, a school situated at Chattogram Cantonment for the children with special needs. I thought it was not a bad idea to spend my leisure time as well as gather some working experience. As a result, I started going to PROYASH marking the beginning of a blissful journey. I never realized that there are so many kinds of disorders people could have until I visited this institution. Disorders like Down syndrome and Cerebral Palsy (CP) were quite new to me but it was unbelievable how much I learnt about such disorders and children suffering from them through my work in PROYASH. Now, let us get to my experience of working at that divine place. I was assigned to work in the ECDP – Early Child Development Program in the first week. This was the class similar to our nursery class, where all the special toddlers are taken care of. This is the class where I met little Azmain, an adorable baby with Down syndrome; Tahmid, a kid suffering from ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder; Mighdad, Arafat, Shayan, Ishaan, Zarif, Labib and the other little cuties. It was amusing working with these adorable and talented children. It was adorable when little Azmain spoke in ‘gibberish’ or Tahmid would not stop saying goodbye to us while we were leaving, when Zarif would ask me to get him his favorite teddy bear or when Mighdad played ‘Disha Disha’ with me. The second week was as delightful as the first one. Apparently, the third week was the best because on 2nd April, I got the chance to celebrate World Autism Awareness Day for the first time. The day started with a brief discussion about Autism. After that, we all rallied through the areas nearby to raise awareness along with the students, teachers and staffs of PROYASH. It was indeed one of the experiences I will cherish forever in my heart.
In the fifth and sixth weeks, I worked in the Primary (1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th) class where I met an extraordinary little girl, Shreya (ADHD) who can memorize anything, even the calendar. If you tell her a date of any year she can tell what day it was within a second. Amazing, is it not? This little girl changed my whole perception of children with special needs and their ‘inability’. To be honest, she mastered the impossible; even what ‘normal’ people are incapable of doing. Then, what right do ‘normal’ people have to label ‘people like her’ as ‘disabled’?
My journey in PROYASH did come to an end soon after my classes of 11th grade started but the time I spent there is unforgettable. By working in PROYASH I realized how lucky I am to be born normal. My experience there persuaded me to feel grateful to Almighty for this. I also realized that these kids are capable of doing a lot even some things we ordinary people cannot do and therefore, I prefer to call them ‘Differently-abled’ or ‘Special Children’ instead of ‘Disabled’ because they are not ‘literally’ disabled now, are they? “[By] this most sorrowful way I was compelled to tread, I learned to respect and reverence for every human mind. It was my child who taught me to understand so clearly that all people are equal in their humanity and that all have the same human rights. None is to be considered less, as a human being, than any other, and each must be given his place and safety in the world. I might never have learned this in any other way. I might’ve gone on in the arrogance of my own intolerance for those less able than myself. My child taught me humanity,” said the first American female Nobel Prize laureate in Literature, Pearl S. Buck in her groundbreaking memoir, The Child Who Never Grew about raising a special-needs daughter in a time of prejudice. In fact, the only thing ‘these’ children need is a little love and care, not our sympathy but the problem is the society’s view of the person’s abilities. People often see an individual’s disability before the respective individual but this is wrong. I often observe ‘kids’ our age calling the special children in offensive language, or teasing or mocking them. These ‘Illiterate kids’ do not realize even for a single moment that the special children are humans like us. Sometimes, ordinary kids are scared to befriend these special kids. I want to tell them, please do not be. Be the first person to take a step ahead. Your single step can help create a difference. I hope everyone reading this will try to work for special children and make their family and friends aware as well. In this world full of haters and bullies, it does not take much to be a person to spread love and positivity. After the Australian kid, Quaden’s heart-wrenching video flooded the internet, celebrities including actor Hugh Jackman and basketball player Enes Kanter have spoken out and parents around the globe shared video messages from their children in support of the nine-year-old. The video triggered everyone to stand against bullying of all forms and taught us that we should never be insensitive towards someone’s insecurities or disabilities. We should never forget Robert M. Hensel’s saying, “We, the ones who are challenged, need to be heard. To be seen not as a disability, but as a person who has, and will continue to bloom. To be seen not only as a handicap but as a well intact human being.” In conclusion, ignition of a sense of responsibility to spread love and abolish hate is the most essential revolution for a better world, a world full of love. I know that if we all can work together, we can make this world a better place for everyone.
Author: Nuzaba Tasannum, Project Coordinator, reflective TEENS and Undergraduate 1st-year Student at Asian University for Women (AUW)