I have a simple wish.
I have a simple wish – to own a mobile phone and a dress in pink, my favorite color. These are possessions that most 16-year-olds in many parts of the world take for granted.
Some people think I’m silly, and they find it hard to believe that my family cannot afford these things for me.
Where I live, the fact is these items remain a luxury that my friends and I can only dream of. Home for my parents and I in Jharkhand, India is a small one-room rented space, with access to a toilet we share with dozens of other families. My father works in a laundry shop, and my mother is a domestic helper. Together, they take home about INR 9,000 (US$127) a month – which makes living simply a necessity.
As a child, I was overweight, extremely lethargic, and had problems following instructions. I appeared to be trapped in my own world, which made my parents very worried. A doctor found that I had lower-than-normal IQ, and learning difficulties.
Unfortunately, my parents could not afford special care for me. I did not go to school until a friend told them about the Children of Hope School, for children living in the slums of India. There are no school fees, and most of the students have never been to school before.
I was 11 when I went to school for the first time. Before that, I had no idea what it meant to study, have any structure or purpose in my life. I would simply stay behind closed doors all day.
Through my school, I was introduced to sports and Special Olympics Bharat (India). Before this, I had never led an active life, and I struggled to follow the instructions of my coach, Arun Datta. I had been accustomed to a lethargic and sedentary lifestyle, and was reluctant to comply with what Coach Arun was trying to teach me.
Fortunately, Coach Arun has more than 17 years of experience working with people with intellectual disabilities, and knew exactly how to guide me.
He made me join a gym, and got me started on a weight-lifting regime. I refused to lift the weights initially as I was frightened that the weights would fall on me! But Coach Arun was extremely patient and started me with small weights, increasing them gradually as I got more confident.
At school, I was made to run every day, under the supervision of an assistant coach from Special Olympics Bharat. Twice a week, I attended training for power-lifting.
I have come such a long way from when I first started a year ago. Training is something I look forward to these days. I have lost 15 kg in the past year, and I can now easily lift 100 kg.
One of my proudest moments was when I won the Gold Medal in power-lifting at the National Training Camp in June last year. It won me the opportunity of a lifetime – the chance to represent my country at the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi.
My transformation has brought a lot of joy to my parents. They used to worry about me and accompany me wherever I went, as they didn’t think that I could lead an independent life. But we made a breakthrough a few months ago, when they finally had the confidence to let me attend a Special Olympics training camp on my own. It was a huge milestone for us.
These days, I am active not just in school but at home as well. I enjoy dancing, and have learnt how to help my mother with the chores. When guests visit, I no longer hide away like I used to do. Instead, I have learnt to make tea for them, and be a good host.
I am so proud that I have made such progress in the short span of a year, and I am looking forward to travelling out of India for the very first time to do my best at the World Games. I am grateful to the coaches and teachers who believed in me while the rest of the world had long given up hope and dismissed people like me – people with intellectual disabilities – as a lost cause.
I am determined to keep working hard to prove that with a little patience and support, I can surpass everyone’s expectations.