Lending Voice and Ears

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It was her mother’s disability that forced young Arwa to master signs language so that she could communicate with her. But once she mastered it, she became both communicator and crisis manager for Kashmir’s deaf and dumb sports persons. Zulkifla Shakeel tells her story

For Arwa Imtyaz Bhat, 16, a resident of Srinagar’s uptown Nowgam, communicating with her mother Rehana, a deaf and dumb, was an everyday struggle. In order to overcome this communication hurdle, Arwa decided to learn sign language. Once she mastered the art of communication using sign language, she wanted to help other people who couldn’t speak or talk.

When Arwa was in fifth standard, she stated spending more time with deaf and dumb people so that she could pick up the basics of their language.

“I also started spending time with my uncle who has undergone training in this language,” said Arwa, who is currently in Class 9. “My interactions with such people helped me develop an urge to do something for them.”

At the age of 11, Arwa started bonding with deaf and mute players by accompanying her uncle, Mohammad Saleem, former General Secretary, Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association of the Deaf. “Bonding with these people took a lot of time and efforts. It was not easy for them to trust me with their feelings. But once I started spending a lot of time with them, they started opening up,” said Arwa.

Since then Arwa is helping these sports persons to communicate with people around them whenever on a tour. “I often accompany during district, state and national level events and help them communicate,” said Arwa.

But it is not easy for Arwa to strike a balance between her studies and her selfless help for these specially-abled people. “I also help them outside the field too, making sure they are emotionally well. I often give them pep talk once in a while.”

Arwa, who wants to become a doctor and help poor by providing free medical care, dreams of opening an academy for deaf and dumb. “I want to provide professional training in sports and teach them how to communicate effectively.”

But Arwa lacks resources to even pursue her education as her family is struggling to meet their day-to-day expenses. “I don’t ask for any monetarily compensation against my services for these people. I feel great whenever I am with them. They are like my family now,” said Arwa.

Despite her Class 10 exams next year Arwa is determined to continue her work with these players. But it pains young Arwa when she comes across people who bully these specially-abled players for their disability. “I will continue helping them no matter what comes,” said a confident Arwa. “I hope government will recognize their talent and help them get jobs so that they can live with dignity.”

Apart from counseling and communicating with these deaf and dumb sports persons, Arwa at times has to counsel their parents and family to let them pursue their dreams. “I try to tell them that these people are not a burden but as good as any other normal person,” said Arwa. “I personally visit their families and request them to let their children, especially girls play and live.”

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