Daring Challenges, Creating Hope

A physiotherapist who sidelined his career to work for the physically challenged, Sami Wani, in collaboration with a international NGO has given new life to a number of people with disabilities. Shahnawaz Khan reports.    
Sami Wani, 28, of Wayil Ganderbal is mostly dependent on his parents and elder brothers for his pocket money. Over the last ten years, however, Wani has helped hundreds of people struggling with deformities overcome their dependence on others.
A  trained physiotherapist, Sami Wani ignored his career soon after completing his studies in 1999, and instead set up a centre that traces physically challenged persons and provides them required remedies – medicine, surgeries, or physical aids.
The centre run by She Hope Society offers physiotherapy and corrective surgery – as well as simple yet effective technologies such as the low-cost prosthetic legs pioneered by New Zealand challenge charity Mobility Equipment Needs of the Disabled (MEND).
“I was always moved by the problems of disabled. In my childhood I wondered how they would manage, how much problems they would be facing,” says Wani.
 It was perhaps this spirit and a chance encounter on internet that led Wani to sideline his career for the path he took.
 “I was browsing internet at a friend’s office and came across some information about a New Zealand organisation working for the disabled. I wrote to them and that is how it began,” Wani narrates.
The New Zealand charity, MEND, pioneers in providing simple but effective technologies like hearing aids and low cost prosthetic legs. Wani had got in touch with MEND director, Bob Buchanam, who soon after visited Kashmir.
 When Bob came here, Wani was still looking for a job, but Bob had something else in mind.  He asked Wani to find the number of disabled in villages around him. Wani went around village to village only to be shocked by a count of 1500.  Bob also convinced Wani’s parents about his plans. It was not hard to convince them, as Wani’s father, Ghulam Nabi Wani was already into social service. It was he, who had formed the She Hope, a Non Governmental Organisation working for the needy women. In subsequent years, Sami and Bob were only to convert it into a Centre for disabled.
 Thus Wani began his work from a single room centre in Ganderbal. Week after week, along with his staff, Wani would visit a village creating awareness about the causes, prevention and treatment of various disabilities. This was followed by identification, assessment and referral of disabled people to his Centre. The process continues even today. For surgeries Wani took help from SKIMS Hospital Bemina, where surgeons operate upon the cases referred by the Centre during winter.  
 MEND would send aids regularly, but funds were still a problem. They still are, but Wani would rope in donors, sometimes police, sometimes the army and sometimes private donors.
Wani has also approached the Union Health Ministry with a few proposals, but the files are gathering dust in the ministry. Wani’s family has been a major contributor. Besides helping in donations his father provided land for the Centre. Soon Wani shifted and constructed a bigger four room Centre. The number of disabled persons in Kashmir has seen a sharp increase in the last two decades of the conflict.  Blasts, bullets and anti-personnel mines have left many healthy individuals disabled.   The mass protests in 2008 saw a further increase in number of disabled people with police and troops flexing muscles on protestors.
“We actually did a few amputations and treated a lot of victims during the mass protests,” says Wani.   
With Wani looking for ways to expanding services donations were never enough. Many times salaries of staff went unpaid for months, until some donor rescued. Last year, however, the Centre came close to big money, in the BBC world challenge contest raising hopes of everyone involved.
The World Challenge is a global competition, organized by BBC World News and Newsweek, aimed at selecting the best projects or small businesses from around the world that have shown innovation and enterprise at grass roots level, and provides them with financial aid.
From around 1200 nominations the Centre ended up among the 12 finalists, for the $ 20,000 prize money.   That was real money, raising real hopes. Bagging the prize meant Wani could have built the hostel he wanted for the patients of far flung areas. He could have easily paid the three month pending salaries of his staff. He could have expanded his programme and possibly opened a Centre in each district.  But Wani ended up as the runner up, losing in votes to a Pakistan based grassroots organisation. “I was leading in all the rounds until the final one. The voting was done by emails and I couldn’t keep up. If people in Kashmir had been aware about the contest may be I could win,” says Wani.  However, a miss is as far as a mile, but Wani looks undeterred.  “We have just been cleared for the FCRA (Foreign Contributions Regulations Act), and that will be very helpful. I hope to rope in some foreign donors,” says a confident Wani focussing only on the job ahead.  

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