I have gotten back in touch with many friends and classmates from school thanks to Facebook. But there is one person I will never find on Facebook, and one whose well-being I really want to know about. She’s Satyamma.
In 1981, my father, through articles he wrote in the daily Gomantak, put forth the idea of a residential school for the deaf and mute in Goa. He came up with the idea after meeting the father of a deaf and mute child, who lamented that schools for special children were too far in Goa. Lack of proper transport was a major issue back then in Goa. He had ultimately sent his wife to Pune to do a course in teaching such children, and she taught their child at home.
People responded immediately to the first article. The office of Gomantak was inundated with phone calls by people offering to help in kind and monetarily. Letters and cheques poured in. People met him to give him money. A meeting was held in our house where a trust, the Lokavishwas Pratishtan – People’s Foundation – was set up. After funds were collected, a two-bedroom house was rented in Ponda for the school. The medium of instruction was Marathi.
Just as people came forth to contribute to the idea for the Lokavishwas Pratishthan school, they also helped it afterwards. Like a barber’s assistant, whose deaf and mute son studied in Pune, handed my father 25 paise everyday to help run the school. The owner of a local hotel provided rice for one year. Many others provided furniture.
Initially the school was run in that rented house. But then the Shantadurga devasthan trust at Kawale gave the school a plot the temple owned. The foundation stone laying ceremony of Lokavishwas Pratishthan’s ‘Shri Shantadurga Krupa Prasad’ complex took place in the presence of the honourable Swami of the Kawale math. Today the complex has a separate day school building for the mentally challenged, and a residential school for the visually challenged and the deaf and mute. The complex also has a spacious hall. The Lokavishwas Pratishthan’s school has twice won the state government’s award for the best educational institution.
Initially there were a handful of children at the school. They had left behind their families for the first time. They couldn’t communicate. I remember the day of the inauguration. It was raining heavily. Children stood confused as parents cried and tried to explain to them that they would live at this school now.
Satyamma was there too. She was the daughter of construction workers. Someone had told them about the school and they had brought her there. I think they were Kannadigas.
The first academic year began on August 16, 1981, my father’s birthday. As the school progressed, we also began to learn about the world of the deaf and mute. Most of them can’t speak because they cannot hear. If this fault can be corrected by hearing aids or surgery early in life, some of them are able to speak.
I remember once my parents dropped me off at the school while they went for a function nearby. I would have lunch there while I waited for them to return. The kids’ school was over and they too were waiting for lunch. They knew who I was. I was watching TV in the living room. They kept coming there and staring at me. Then Satyamma pointed out to a board on the room. It said STD I. Then she asked me to follow her and took me to the other room which said STD IV. She gestured as if to say she was in class IV and asked me about myself. I was also in class IV. She was thrilled. Then the other kids were also excited and began to tell me what class they were in.
At the end of the first academic year, parents arrived to collect their children. Satyamma’s mother was there too. Seeing her, Satyamma uttered a single word, “Aai!” Her first word to her family. Overwhelmed with emotion, her mother rushed to my father and fell at his feet in gratitude.
I often think of Satyamma. She finished school and went back to her family. Is she married? How did her husband accept her? Where is she? Did she tell her children about the school? Does she work?
Perhaps I will never know. But I do know that Lokavishwas Pratishthan’s school for the handicapped continues to make a difference in many more lives. I only wish people continue to help and run the school the way they have.