Our Stories

The work of a few friends to support blind students by reading out their textbooks to them,and later recording their syllabi on audio cassette has today taken this form where in a state-of-the-art recording studio, recording of books by volunteers is carried on all day long. Theseaudio recordings are used by people with visual impairment from all over the country andanyone from anywhere can send in a book to be recorded. This work, like it was in thebeginning, remains voluntary and is provided free of charge.

As they involved themselves with this work, the volunteers of Arushi discovered how peoplewith disabilities are living sequestered lives unable to participate in anything that the rest ofus take for granted, for example, going to a park or a bank. An attempt to plug these gapsand facilitate their inclusion grew gradually over these three decades into what Arushi istoday. From confidence-building through travel, participation in competitions, visits to publicplaces, meeting with celebrities and role models, they were provided with every opportunitythat everyone else enjoys. This is how Arushi involved itself with the creation of accessiblepublic spaces, advocacy, sensitization trainings, community-based rehabilitation andawareness campaigns.

The amazing thing here is that everything is looked at with a fresh perspective and the age-old, stereotypical approach is questioned. So, our blind kids read out stories to other kidsfrom their Braille storybooks; they also act as navigators to sighted drivers in the annual carrally. Inmates of the Bhopal jail record study material and in what was supposed to help theblind students, the inmates of the jail have found fulfilment and purpose. To disseminateawareness about various forms of disability, important information was printed on railwayreservation forms and school textbooks!

In these three decades that I have been associated with Arushi, the other thing that neverceases to amaze me is the attitude with which each task is undertaken – whether it is anurgent need for funds or a plan to take the children out on an outstation trip – there is nostress about how things will work out. Someone or the other is always around to lend ahelping hand. If a vehicle is required, a volunteer or patron who can arrange one just walksinto Arushi at that moment; if there is a discussion on taking the children to the hills, somestranger from the hills calls up to invite them and takes complete charge of the trip. There isa magic that works things here. Those who do not believe in magic call it ‘intent’. When theintent is to do good, there is little that can come in the way, if it does, there are invisiblehands that remove the hurdles quietly.

ShefaliTripathi Mehta

Bangalore December, 2018

My relationship with Arushi

My earliest assignments were for the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust (SDTT) between 2006 and 2008. I travelled deep into the country to places where SDTT had philanthropic interests. On those assignments, I worked with NGOs, interacted and photographed change makers at the grass root level who were field workers, educators and a bridge between the disadvantaged sections and the policy makers, these heroes made palpable differences in peoples lives, providing a platform for independence and courage towards a more fearless living and yet their world seemed to stand still. It moved me to delve deeper and understand life and its unjust imbalances. I was young and these formative character building experiences taught me humility and kept me grounded.

During those years of documentation for SDTT, i photographed over fifty NGOs engaged in varied social interests and causes around the country opening up a world of opportunities for me to be an effective storyteller since 2005.

In due course I became an active volunteer for Arushi, an NGO based in Bhopal. What began as an assignment 12 years ago has now become a lifelong commitment to a ‘family’. The differently abled children at Arushi are a joy to be with. To them I am “Zi bhaiya or Focus Uncle”, their friend with whom they can play the fool, sing and dance. Be themselves, totally. I’ve photographed these children in all their emotions. For me, visiting them, being with them, is to discover myself. I become a better person: sensitive, aware and caring.

Iv been a volunteer since and have evolved as a human being because of my long and beautiful relationship as one receives so much more than one could give in this environment, its been a selfish endeavour to go back over and over again for the last 12 years, years of learning and understanding the human being as creatures of habit and need. The happiness the family exudes can only be experienced! Arushi aspires to bring a ray of hope into the lives of the disadvantaged sections of society by striving for their integration into the mainstream. A centre of motivation and a platform of exposure for differently abled people, encouraging them to explore the unexplored and unexpected.

Zishaan A Latif