I’ve frequently been reminded of the importance of being patient during my time in India. However much I feel eager to make a difference, when dealing with Kafkaesque bureaucracy or sitting out another interminable power cut it often pays to be stoic. More than that, witnessing the calm perseverance of my colleagues at Ekta has shown me that sometimes the long road is the only option.
One of my colleagues, Upasana, recently took me to visit a girl called Nayanamate at her home in Bariguda, a small tribal village made up of fewer than 70 houses in the Koraput district of Orissa. Nayanamate is 17 years old and was born with both cerebral palsy and severe epilepsy, which makes it extremely difficult for her to learn anything and impossible for her to attend the already overstretched local school. She has a limited vocabulary and struggles to identify shapes or match colours. Her mother and grandmother, who themselves must fight to survive in one of the world’s poorest regions, told me of their fears for her future.
Upasana has spent countless hours working with Nayanamate, struggling over each new word and endlessly repeating exercises. The result is that by the time she reached puberty Nayamate had finally learned to read and write her own name and the names of her parents and village. These are essential skills anywhere in the world, nowhere more so than in a country which adores paperwork as much as India. Along with the epilepsy medicine Ekta has obtained for her, which aids her concentration, Nayamate has earned a tiny measure of independence and has improved her chances of accessing the government schemes designed to help her.
Ekta’s Community Based Rehabilitation programme works with around 200 people living with disabilities in Koraput district. A large part of its role is to help those who are illiterate to access the support the government offers. For many of the rural poor, this education deficit is in turn caused by the fact that school is secondary to survival.
Helping these communities out of this Catch-22 situation is a slow process requiring equanimity and persistence. My colleagues and I at Ekta are all impatient to see change that will make a real difference for Koraput’s tribal population, but there are no shortcuts to development. As Upasana and Nayanamate can teach us, sometimes small steps, hard won, are the only way to move forwards.