Posted by Sharmila Divatia, Vadodara, Gujarat
I am a survivor of encephalitis from way back in June 1970, when the mortality rate was almost 100%. I have a spastic hand and a speech impediment due to the disease. That said, I am also a MSc. Maths, a diploma in Computer Application and an MBA Operations.
In all of this time – 8 months to be precise, we keep hearing horror stories of the lockdown hampering persons with disabilities. I have, on the other hand, very positive and uplifting incidents to recount for myself. I have worked every single day – whether for my ventures or for the home – and it has helped me keep sane and on the go.
Professional experiences in the lockdown
The scorching April heat did not deter anyone of us. A raging pandemic and a newly acquired work from home status with a laptop / smart phone were able devices to get set and go. We at Bringle Academy collaborated worldwide to get people on our platform. A #21DaysBusinessSustainability Challenge began from our doors from April through May 2020, Monday to Friday, culminating in a grand finale. 80+ speakers, 50+ countries and a live audience on our YouTube channel. We have a digital book compiled from the learning in these sessions.
The amazing fact is when you give, you get back so much more. The series covered Health & Wellness as a first topic, and from there on to Leadership, Customer Lifecycle, Technology, Security, Human Resources, and a wealth of topics. We were covered by Radio Masti Singapore on a daily basis with our pearls of wisdom being broadcasted by them the next day. Another series that we did a bit later through July and August 2020 was “Making the Digital World Alive”. Here too we had a complete tech series with the best of the world which can help just about anyone to begin their enterprise.
For persons with disabilities we have a program, “Disability Is Not Inability”. For people looking to teach/coach/mentor others to help them become productive we have the Top100MentorsClub. These become our vehicles to help people out in troubled times like the lockdown to learn and become better in their lives, personal or professional.
Not just adults, we ran a camp of Story Telling Workshops conducted by children. Books were picked and summarised for kids, by kids and the online camp was mentored by an adult. These were Sunday afternoon readings and thoroughly enjoyable. We do have a holistic development program for kids MBA4Kids that this camp was a part of.
The pandemic was a very busy time indeed!
I had gone out to buy vegetables one morning sometime in May 2020. As I reached the vendor, a police vehicle touched the curb simultaneously. I thought for a moment, am I masked? Yep. The police ASI and I got to the vendor at the same instant. Of course the uniform got first attention. “Shut down time… close shop right away!” It was still an hour to curfew. Then his attention veered towards me, and my disability and his entire persona changed – he smiled at me but his words were directed at the vegetable vendor “…… after the lady has bought the vegetables.” And a few words directed at me “You have 10 minutes. Meanwhile, I will close the other shops! And be careful!” A lot of the positive vibes were to put me at ease.
Another one was while my father and I were going to pick groceries. As we turned on the main road, a police vehicle started to follow us and when we stopped at the grocers, about 500 meters from our home, the constable noted our masked faces, a senior citizen at the wheel and a disabled person getting off to pick up groceries. (We ordered groceries on phone and picked up when the order was readied.) The chemist, an amazing fellow too, delivers. The constable followed us home to check that we reached safely.
The best part is the municipality sends people across the city every 15 days to check if their health is in order – cold, cough, fever, any other symptom? Any guests from out of town? And they religiously note down in their register the number of people in the house and their health status. While the pandemic had begun and we were locked down, vegetable vendors were sent to various areas in individual societies to look up homes that needed supplies. Limited supplies, no hiking the rates, and in a tempo or a car that was sanitised before and after. This was the municipality efforts and we have appreciated that.
I had reviewed and sent in my comments on the education policy sometime last December. Then a few months of silence as the government mulled over and adopted certain suggestions, put off the others and held some in abeyance. I had an aye in 3 out of 10 suggestions that I had sent in. I am grateful that they went through. I have 7 more to push through now.
Just recently, I was approached by a lady who needs me as a sounding board for inclusive education. A lot of parents with disabled children need help, and so do teens. Awareness of and how to handle a specific disability should be available with schools. A lot of the information is on the net – probably too much to sift through. I will put up a document for her and the parents that come to her institution. Our intent is to touch a million lives by the end of 2025 with Vardaan – our NPO (Non-Profit Organisation). I have begun my journey with a few, but will be escalating the pace very soon.
At the end, I can say just this – I am at my desk religiously at 10.30 AM everyday but Sunday. The Sabbath is for catching up on reading. My routine, pandemic or not, has not varied in 3 years. I am of the opinion that working to help others has helped me in return, not just goodwill, but with opportunities to grow professionally and personally. I am able to thrive with challenges at my door, and I am sure you too can.
Sharmila is an IT veteran – 32 years in the industry, 25 years in corporate life and 3 years in the entrepreneurship space. She teaches Media and Disability Communication at Mumbai University. Her thought to educate and re-skill people began when she moved to Mumbai in 1996. She took this up as her mission when she cofounded Bringle Excellence LLP and started an NPO Vardaan, in 2017.
Sharmila is also a marathoner, a trekker, a cyclist and enjoys music – all types from the bopping Indic to classical Indian and from rock n roll to pop. She is an avid reader and does not pass up any opportunity to look up and read new books – fiction and non-fiction. She also writes, but sporadically due to a heavy responsibilities desk.
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