Harish’s Story

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When Harish was 10 years old, he was asked to leave the government school he was attending to join a school for children with mental retardation as he was not able to read or write, understand simple mathematics or maintain focus in other academic lessons. He was forced to step away from mainstream society and stayed in a protected environment of a special school for the next 8 years. He joined Saraswati Mandir School and was given the usual life-skills training that were required to function independently in the world outside. Slowly, he began to copy-write and understand how to deal with money. He was shy and found it especially difficult to speak with girls, but he made sure to prod other children to tease them nonetheless.

By the time he turned 18, Harish was independent, responsible, had social skills, and could gather focus on tasks given to him. Harish met all the basic requirements to interact with the world at large. But nothing had changed in the world outside, and he was still seen as someone with mental retardation, whatever it is that meant. With few opportunities at hand, he grabbed a chance of working as a mechanic at a garage for a few months and learnt quickly on the job. His uncle began training him to answer job interviews and after a series of interviews he bagged a job which required him to work on an oil rig. He was first posted in Iran, then off Vishakhapatnam’s coast and is currently in Abu Dhabi.

“I still remember the time when Harish travelled out of the city and stayed away from his family for the first time,” says Chetana Sawant, one of Harish’s teachers at Saraswati Mandir School, recalling the Special Olympics event in which Harish had participated. “Everyone was so nervous about him living 2-3 days independently with no family support. And look today, he travels around the world without any problem.”
Harish still doesn’t know how to read or write, so the big question is how he manages to fill immigration forms while travelling or writing reports for the projects he works on. When we asked him this, he promptly removed his ID card, which had all his details on it, and told us that all he has to do is copy his details onto the form. And when it comes to writing reports, “I have very good colleagues who write out the reports for me,” says a very confident Harish. “In fact, my relationship with my boss is so good that there are times where he himself writes out my reports!”

Chetana is proud to see Harish’s beaming confidence. “For children like Harish, growing up in a regular school environment may not teach them to read or write,” says Chetana, “but it teaches them skills to cope and survive. That, becomes their education.” Harish didn’t get exposure to a regular school environment but stepping back into mainstream society has played an important role in his life. Harish has learnt how to survive, and find simple solutions to the issues he faces around him. Today, he is surrounded with people who accept and respect him for who he is. He dreams to buy an apartment for his family in the big city of Mumbai. But until then, Harish is happy visiting his family during his break and riding around the city on his newly purchased motorbike.

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