Ask any taxi driver in Amritsar where you can do seva/charity work and they'll either point you to Harimandir Sahib or Pingalwara. So with a group of friends I visited the Bhagat Puran Singh School for The Deaf where we were shown around by RP Singh, a retired Air Force officer who has been with the organisation for over 15 years.
It was an insightful experience and I was able to put together the following short documentary.
Over the years various organisations and people have stepped up and supported the school, from building work, clothes, food to equipment. If you'd like to support the school by volunteering or donating please do get in touch with them directly. I understand that they are always looking for books for their library, as well as shoes for the kids.
Below is a write up of a longer interview with RP Singh.
"In Punjab there are 15/16 schools for deaf children but their way of teaching is for the hearing children – not for the deaf. That is the oral method. All over the world they know sign language is the first language for deaf children. Where as in all the schools, there is hardly any communication between the teachers and the students because the teachers don't know sign language. The teacher will come, write on the board. The students will copy that. They will memorise it. They've got brilliant minds, they've got very good brains. We had a student here, she cleared ten standard and she could write beautiful essays, a full page essays in Punjabi, but when you ask them “what's the meaning of this” they don't know. They can memorise and that is astonishing. To memorise the whole page and reproduce beautifully without many mistakes, but the only things is the way of teaching is so wrong. After they clear the tenth exams, they cant read a newspaper – so how do they connect with their environment?
All around you - you can connect. When I'm talking to you, you are looking at me and I know I am getting you, so that is positive feedback for me. But these children, when they try to communicate the other chaps says “what are you doing, I don't understand – go away”. So that feedback they don't get. So a lot of children have behavioural problems. Behavioural problems means frustration, a lot of children who come to us lets say six or seven years of age they are in depression because again at home there is hardly any communication between the parents and the children. So naturally the child is depressed. They find that after a couple of days (at the school), they open up, they start communicating.
We have started a system which is slightly different from everybody else. Our aim is not to get them a certificate that they've cleared the tenth exams. We tell the parents very, very clearly that if you want a tenth standard certificate this is not the place for you. We are going to ensure that the child can communicate, he can convey his feelings, his requirements and he can connect with the environment. He understands may be not everything but most of the things going on around him, he can understand. So that is our aim. So our curriculum also is different, we are concentrated on the child.
We get children from as far away as 350km/400km, because first of all there is no school which gives good education, except one or two; second is the hostel; third is fees because everything is free. So a lot of people want to put their children here, there is a limit on the number of children we can put in the hostel. Hundred children are there now, we give preference to children from very poor families and live far away.
Only now the people have started realising that the deaf can also learn and do what the hearing people do. That's why parents are coming. Three years back parents would say “my child with deaf needs cannot learn anything”, but fortunately the last three have changed. Now the same parent will ring up twice a month and ask how is my child doing. So this is a very positive sign.
We get children 17, 18 years old, they want to put them in the school, its not possible, we start them from pre nursrey - but ok we can start a vocation for them. Vocation, we have got carpentry for the boys and tailoring for the girls. We are thinking of starting one or two fields more for vocations, like mushroom farming, this can be done sitting at home and earn some money so they can stand on their own feet. So the main emphasis is that the children are not going for a job because the maximum job they'll get is a cleaners job.
In computers we started three things one is the data entry, second thing is the illustrations, so we've got a graphics tablet now, animation we can start.
So these are three fields we aim to progress these children.
Animations taken off in a big way in India, so there is a lot of scope there. Of course here in Punjab its very limited but in Delhi or Bombay there's tremendous amount of scope there and then from Delhi deaf children have gone into animation."
The Bhagat Puran Singh School for the Deaf caters for children with special needs and continues the great work of Bhagat Puran Singh, the founder of Pingalwara. His life was recently turned into the film 'Eh Janam Tumhare Lekhe' starring Pavan Raj Malhotra and featured music from Diljit Dosanj.
To read more about Bhagat Puran Singh and his selfless work click here.