(Posting a series of success stories from the compilation The Project Why Stories 2000-2016)
Indian society continues to treat disability with indifference, pity or revulsion. Low literacy, school enrolment and employment rates as well as widespread social stigma are making mentally disabled people amongst the most excluded in Indian society. These people are deterred from taking an active part in most families or even communities. Moreover, there is a stigma attached to children with disabilities, especially in rural India, and often even loving parents can do nothing to help their disabled child because they themselves are not aware of the disease or how to take care of their child.
The story of Muna therefore begins in 2005, when he first arrived at Project WHY. It was clear that he had never been adequately looked after. Upon further investigation, it was revealed that, whilst his parents cared about him dearly, they simply did not understand his intellectual impairments. Muna’s parents did not have the time nor the resources to give him due attention, as they had to care for his other four siblings.
Interacting with Muna, Project WHY found that he had little concept of personal hygiene. He would regularly soil himself, and had never been taught to have a shower/bath. He had no understanding of social interaction and rules of engagement. This was demonstrated in 2014 when Muna left a shop without realising he needed to pay for his juice and was severely beaten by the shopkeeper.
Having grown up in the industrial neighbourhood of Okhla, Muna would spend his days begging outside temples, occasionally stealing when money was unavailable. Residents of the neighbourhood would befriend him simply to bully and take advantage of his simple mind. Without the ability to communicate clearly, he was reduced to performing illegal errands around the community such as collecting and selling alcohol for under-aged children.
Project WHY began by teaching Muna the basic concepts of hygiene and to be self-reliant. He was taught to use a lavatory, to dress himself and to shower regularly. From there, we were able to build his confidence through speech therapy classes and develop his basic social interaction skills. Project WHY also initiated the process of educating Muna’s parents, who now understand his disability and the kind of care that he requires. They acknowledge his kind heart and sense of compassion even if he cannot communicate it in the same way as other children.
Today, at the age of 19 years, Muna is one of the stars of Project WHY’s special needs class. He is the first to welcome and befriend any new volunteers, including foreign students who do not speak the Indian language. He is very fond of activities such as art, ball games and dancing and, in spite of his difficult childhood, he shows an overall passion for life.