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Life is fast and competitive; only the fittest shall survive. But what about those who are ‘differently-abled’? Surely, life may be harder for them but here and there we find great examples of people taking up the causes of such people and trying to make a difference in the world for those who may face discrimination and marginalization every day. In a struggling country like ours, where governments are unable to guarantee even basic rights of citizens; for less privileged, there is hardly any relief.
Hearing Impairment, Hearing Deficit, and Deafness are various stages of progressive or congenital hearing problems. If a child cannot hear at birth, the greatest likelihood is that she/he will not be able to speak. It is not that there is a problem with speaking, but children learn to speak after hearing sounds, which in this case does not happen.
WHO reports that 5% of world population – or 466 million people – has Disabling Hearing Loss. (432 million adults and 34 million children). It is estimated that by 2050, over 900 million people – or one in every ten people – will have disabling hearing loss.
The statistics are alarming and frankly, we do not realize the magnitude of problem. We do not have exact statistics on incidence in Pakistan, but by 5% calculation, it would be over 10 million – 1 Crore – people. It is a big number by any standard.
Facilities for special education, vocational training, employment are dismal. Government has a tiny few institutes for deaf children. They cannot be educated in regular institutions. As a result, most remain uneducated or poorly educated and are committed to a life of poverty forever.
I tried to count the number of institutes for hearing impaired children and the number came to just about 150, including about 100 in public and 50 in private sector. Just like the government does not provide public schools for regular students, it does the same for challenged students. Interestingly, private sector has not sprawled in this area because most children come from lower income strata and cannot pay much money.
There are several welfare organizations which are working for the deaf population, children and adults both. I have direct interaction with only one that I know for about fifteen years. It is Deaf Welfare Awareness Foundation – DWAF.
DWAF started its journey over thirty years ago and is still sustaining. The President is Haji Manshah who is deaf by birth; General Secretary is Mrs. Farhat Junaid, who is not deaf but is expert in understanding and teaching sign language. With scant resources, little support from Punjab government and some support from public, DWAF is certainly doing a commendable job.
DWAF is running a small school for children in a thickly populated area of Lahore. Their other deaf-support activities include vocational training in IT, Typing, Graphics, Embroidery, Beauty and Make up, Autocad, Electrical work and some more.
DWAF keeps running fundraising campaigns for other causes, such as distribution of ration packs in Ramadan, financial help for marriages, sports events for deaf etc.
One of their achievements is to work with and work for a deaf cricket team. It is a national team now recognized and supported by the Pakistan Cricket Board. Deaf Cricket League is also organized regularly, which means that deaf cricket teams are operating at district and divisional and provincial levels. These teams compete in the league to grab the national team award.
Working for or running a welfare organization in Pakistan is a lifetime struggle. It is not easy to raise funds if you are not connected at the right places. General public does not trust welfare organizations and are reluctant to support. Media does not highlight such efforts as it does not make a spicy story. Most organizations such as DWAF remain largely unsung, unappreciated, unrecognized and therefore unsupported.
Governance is at the root of our failures. The successive governments have proven their inability for good governance. If welfare efforts are not just supported but, in some way, also governed for their activities, real welfare ones will be recognized while the dubious ones may be filtered out.
As a citizen, it is our responsibility too that we take up the causes of all marginalized, less privileged, and challenged segments of society. If we really feel the pain, we would make it mandatory upon ourselves to allocate a part of our income to support welfare efforts. DWAF may be a good place to start.
Donating is a way to express our gratitude for having all faculties and ample resources to enjoy a comfortable life. Gratitude is a virtue and virtue is its own reward.