Mission Education

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A struggling couple had no capacity to get their specially abled daughter educated. As the husband died of a disease, the widow, a fisherwoman, has nothing to live for except educate her daughter now, writes Aaqib Hyder

Khadija and Fareeda at their home. KL Image: Aaqib Hyder

Khadija and Fareeda at their home. KL Image: Aaqib Hyder

Every day, during the wee hours, Khadija Bano leaves her Fishermen Colony (Shanpora) home in Srinagar to embark on a tedious 100 km long journey to Kupwara. She is a professional fisherwoman for more than a decade. From down south in Anantnag to remote north of Kupwara, she has left her footprints everywhere. Hardcore and workaholic by nature, she is doing all this for her daughter Fareeda. Almost 20, Fareeda is specially-abled; she was born deaf and dumb. Khadija’s husband, a fisherman, was diagnosed with a liver disorder in 2008. After that, she had to manage her home and earn more to run the house and pay for costly medicines and treatment for her husband.

“I used to work till the point of exhaustion every day,” Khadija said. “Every single penny I earned was used for his treatment. I even took him outside the state for better treatment.” All her efforts and hopes turned vain when he lost his battle for life in 2009 leaving behind an emotionally and financially drained family.

As Khadija tried to get in terms with the reality and struggled to restart life with tougher challenges, Fareeda found it hard to cope up with the situation. Soon she started showing signs of depression and anxiety. “She would always wear a gloomy look and preferred to remain indoors,” Khadija said.

Fareeda had started showing interest in books a decade before her father died. Keeping her condition in consideration, her father saw it as a futile and far-fetched idea.

“She would pester him for hours every day to get her admitted in a school but couldn’t convince him,” Khadija said. “Our economic condition wasn’t good either.”

While selling fish in Anantnag, a few years after his death, Khadija mentioned her condition at home to a cab driver. The driver recommended her to get Fareeda admitted in Abhenanda Home in Solina Rambagh, the only school for deaf and dumb. After a few days of contemplation and thought, she decided to go for it. She saw the admission as a way-out to reduce Fareeda’s mounting depression and anxiety. Despite being 13 years of age, school authorities agreed to admit Fareeda.

“She was exceptionally happy that day,” Khadija remembers when she broke the news to her daughter that she is finally going to school.

Every day for three years, Khadija would accompany her daughter up to the school gate before going to sell fish in the school vicinity. Although Fareeda knew the way to the school, the mother, as usual, was unsure of her. One day, she tried to test her memory by sending her alone, but secretly following her. Fareeda passed the test.

Since then, Fareeda goes to school by herself, boarding two different cabs. As Khadija leaves for Kupwara and other distant places, early morning, Fareeda prepares herself for the school.

“I talk and bargain with hundreds of people every day, but all along, my every thought is filled with concern about Fareeda,” Khadija said. “In today’s cruel world, you never know what is going to happen and she can’t even cry for help or something. It worries me a lot.” Khadija wishes if the school or the government offer pick and drop facilities for students like Fareeda, her worries would be over. Besides, the school doesn’t offer winter tuitions during vacations and no other teacher or academy is able or ready to take such students for tuitions.

If it wasn’t for a teacher Farzana, who has been giving free tuitions to deaf and dumb students for the last five years, these specially-abled students would be sitting completely idle for three winter months.

“She is an angel for us,” Khadija said. “We can never repay her for what she has done for Fareeda and other students.”

Fareeda is currently studying in the seventh standard. Although she is several years overage than others in the class, her spirits are much higher. Every day after coming home from school, Fareeda gets busy in household chores and cooks food for the night. Once finished, she grabs her schoolbag and gets on with her homework. As evening darkness starts to step in, she glues her stare on the door while occasionally stealing glances at the wall clock in mother’s wait. She has begun to feel concerned about her mother’s well-being.

“If it gets a little late than usual, she calls me to check if I am all right,” Khadija said. “She can’t hear me but once I pick up the call, she gets to know I am safe.” Fareeda’s status was giving her mother sleepless nights a decade back. Now Khadija believes Fareeda is a blessed girl. She sees Fareeda as the only reason for every good thing happening in their life.

“I am just a fisherwoman with no good source of income, but by the grace of Allah, I have never taken a single penny from anyone. I believe it is all because of Fareeda. She is a special girl,” she said.

Fareeda has been quite successful in adjusting with her circumstances. As Khadija casually mentioned Fareeda’s sulky nature and narrated few stories about how she gets easily offended and mad at little things, Fareeda who was sitting just next to her mother figured out the topic in seconds. With an embarrassing smile on her face, she stretched her right hand to cover Khadija’s mouth in no time.

A snap of Fareeda's english notebook. KL Image: Aaqib Hyder

A snap of Fareeda’s English notebook. KL Image: Aaqib Hyder

“Although Allah gave her to me without two senses, she is bestowed with countless other qualities and etiquettes,” Khadija said. “Her mind is very sharp and she is very witty. Her understanding of facial expressions and lip movements is amazing.” Fareeda is highly religious. She prays five times a day. Much before people go to mosques for morning prayers, she starts preparing for the same at home. Moreover, apart from studies and doing household chores, Fareeda likes to play with her smartphone and shop for new fancy clothes. Laughing, Khadija pointed towards an embroidered pheran hanging from a hinge on the kitchen wall and said: “Do you think she is old enough to wear that thing? She is more obsessed with fanciness and cleanliness than a normal person.”

Khadija has chosen an exhausting routine for herself.

It is Fareeda’s future that keeps her going.

Despite living a painfully challenging life, Khadija carries a strong resolve to educate her daughter. She does not want her condition disable her life.

“I want to see Fareeda doing something on her own and become an able human. That is the only wish I want to get fulfilled before my death,” she said.

Fareeda’s zest for knowledge and Khadija’s resolve is unabated and unshakable. The mother’s concern, however, is that Fareeda may have to drop-out as there is no institution where she can study beyond twelfth class. “I will always find a way to educate her until the last day of my life. I don’t want to watch her dreams and passion cut short like that,” she said.

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