One challenge lost,many more won

The $20,000 prize money from the BBC World Challenge 2008,would have made a difference. Physiotherapist Sami Wani would have extended his four-room rehabilitation centre...

Written by Toufiq Rashid | Srinagar | Published: January 19, 2009 12:20 am

The $20,000 prize money from the BBC World Challenge 2008,would have made a difference. Physiotherapist Sami Wani would have extended his four-room rehabilitation centre for the disabled and bought better equipment. His ambulance driver wouldn’t have to worry about empty petrol tanks and his staff of eight would have finally been paid,having gone without their salaries for the last four months. He might even have been able to construct the hostel he had always dreamt of,in which children from far-flung areas could stay for proper post-operative care.

“I am unable to be of much help to disabled children from remote areas. There are no roads in these places,so the children can’t come here for therapy frequently enough. I wish I could just keep them here until they get well,” says Wani,who on an average helps treat 30 to 40 children with various disabilities — free of cost. The signboard outside his centre appeals to people to contact him if their children are suffering from disabilities.

It was this work that earned Wani and his organisation,the She Hope Foundation,a place among the 12 finalists of the BBC World Challenge. However,Wani couldn’t make it to the top three . “We were chosen out of 1,200 nominations from across the world. I couldn’t make it. The BBC said that though my work was the most commendable,I didn’t get enough votes. I had no money for publicity. When people in Kashmir didn’t know we were participating,how would we get votes?” asks Wani.

The World Challenge,organised by BBC World News and Newsweek,is a global competition aimed at selecting the best projects from around the world that have shown innovation and enterprise at the grassroots level and providing them with financial aid. The She Hope Foundation,according to the BBC,was nominated for its rehabilitation work. From fixing and reconstructing prosthetic limbs to giving hearing aids and training children in Braille,Wani does it all.

Operating from a small village called Vyail in Ganderbal,around 20 km from Srinagar,Wani runs his non-profit centre in a brick and mud single-storey building with few facilities. However,he has hundreds of success stories to his credit.

A physiotherapist by profession,Wani explains that the centre specialises in corrective surgeries and offers low-cost prosthetic legs to people who can’t afford them. “Most of these children are immobile or are barely mobile. Poverty makes it impossible for parents to invest in their treatment,” he informs.

After training in Mangalore,Wani chose to open the centre in 1999,while most of his classmates took up lucrative jobs in hospitals.

His day usually starts with door-to-door visits in villages,identifying children with disabilities. His next job is getting the children to his centre,identifying their problems with testing and diagnostic aids and looking for donors to sponsor treatment. Once the surgeries are done,Wani takes it upon himself to rehabilitate the children. “The treatment cost is very high. So I have to get in touch with a thousand people for each patient,” he says. His donations mostly come from the local Army unit,the police and residents of his village. “My biggest donor is my father. He helps me monetarily and has also donated the 2 kanal land the centre stands on,” he adds.

In addition,a New Zealand-based organisation — Mobility Equipment Needs of the Displaced (MEND) — chips in. “When I set up the facility,I didn’t know how to get it going. I went online and searched for people. I wrote letters to all kinds of people in the field and got a response from MEND,which has been helping since,” he adds.

MEND’s director,Rob Buchanan and his team of doctors have become so involved that they visit Kashmir every year for two to three months. “In fact,they only nominated the organisation,” says Wani.

“We have tied up with doctors in hospitals in Srinagar and they do most of the constructive surgeries,” adds Wani.

In the past decade,the centre has reached out to around 700 disabled people. Sami explains the need that drove him to undertake this initiative: “Two decades of conflict have left a dearth in even basic services and the disabled have very little space in the support system. We don’t have big donors and any government help for these children. Poverty and prejudice adds to the problem,” he says.

Wani’s work,however,doesn’t end there. In summer,the rooms are converted into a special school for these children. He has roped in speech therapists and even teachers for the mentally challenged. Some older children who can’t resume studies are taught vocational skills.

As funds remain a problem,Wani says,“I will also start a physiotherapy clinic for the general population — for people who can pay. Dedicating a few hours there daily might help with salaries,” he says.

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