By Rohan Roy, A PRAGNYA Ally
“Community Service'', “Volunteer hours” - although these words seemed to echo around my head since the start of highschool - they fell on my deaf ears. I just did not get what the hullabaloo was about. There was no urgency. To me it was just another task to check off my high school graduation to-do list. It was a chore - a complete waste of time. But since this was a requirement for my High School Graduation I knew I would start someday - no rush.
Eventually, it started dawning on me that I had to get the ball rolling. I reached out to some friends for help. My friend Rishi said he volunteered at Pragnya - an organization which helped autistic individuals (which I now know as Neurodiverse) develop social, academic and physical skills in order to give them a better shot at living a ‘normal’ life.
On my very first day there the group activity was coloring. It was easy! We started out great but that did not last long. Suddenly there was chaos. The kids were running amok. Between the incessant screams and a barrage of markers being strewn all over, it seemed that the quality of the drawings was the least of my worries. As my patience started to wear thin, I felt frustrated and utterly clueless. This was all a mistake! I did not know what to do. I looked around the room and saw the other volunteers calmly and patiently helping these kids with smiles on their faces. Why weren’t they frustrated?
We knew they were ‘different’ and had ‘special needs’ hence they went to classes where ‘special’ teachers helped them.
Since Kindergarten the ‘Special Ed’ children of our grade went to different classes and we never got to mingle with them. We knew they were ‘different’ and had ‘special needs’ hence they went to classes where ‘special’ teachers helped them. We had no exposure to their world. We were ignorant as to what it took to walk a day in their shoes or their teachers’ shoes. It was mere co-existence and sympathy - nothing beyond that. As the only child at home, and no such special needs kids in my extended family, I had no exposure outside school either.
I challenged myself to take stock of all I could offer, count my blessings and get my act together. Enough with the ‘I’, ‘Me’ and ‘Myself’! I had to look at what they wanted - not how I could benefit from them by fulfilling my required ‘hours’. Boy was I in for a surprise. I had started volunteering there to be cool among my peers. But soon I was seriously involved, looking forward to being silly and funny with these . They had started communicating with me - they liked me! I was in ‘love’ - well, not the kind every teenager aspires for, but a kind totally alien to me until then. How could I not react? Their infectious laughter and unconditional love had won my heart. I looked forward to being with them - laughing and playing to our hearts content. These Kids were so intelligent and creative. They were happy - and made me enjoy the small things in life which we take for granted. These amazing kids had become my teachers instead.
I had so much to give and receive as well. They taught me the ‘real value’ of the hours I got to spend with them - this will remain priceless to me.
The real reason behind the volunteers’ / Allies' smiles slowly dawned on me. I realized the world did not revolve around me. I had so much to give and receive as well. They taught me the ‘real value’ of the hours I got to spend with them - this will remain priceless to me. I am indebted to Pragnya for this impactful exposure which has certainly left me with a wider and more tolerant perspective towards life in all its neurodiversity as well as opened my eyes in such a proactive way. It has been a revelation for me. I see the world through a different lens now. It is no longer just a requirement for me to graduate. I will remain involved. Somewhere through it all, this boy became a man!
Somewhere through it all, this boy became a man!