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the Message Continues ... 6/97

 

 

Newsletter for September 2009

Article 1 - Article 2 - Article 3 - Article 4 - Article 5 - Article 6 - Article 7 - Article 8 - Article 9 - Article 10 - Article 11 - Article 12

 

Overcoming barriers
 
By Mowahid Hussain Shah

 

 

The other day, Nigar, an accomplished lady in the Washington area with a noted profile in public service, shared a quote in connection with the recent death of Eunice Kennedy (sister of the late President John F. Kennedy) who had done pioneering work to help uplift the plight of the disabled in society. She wrote: "in life what matters most is not what one achieves but what one overcomes." Inevitably and perhaps unavoidably, sooner or later one either has to overcome the setbacks of life and move forward, or else, to yield to them.

Eunice Kennedy had an older retarded sister, Rosemary. Her empathy for her sister and her faith in God motivated her to move mountains and she helped found the Special Olympics movement in 1968, which infused a sense of dignity and self-esteem to millions around the world who were bypassed by society. It demonstrated that the disabled had the capacity of becoming useful contributors to society with the help of special education and rehabilitation programs, along with supportive social attitudes. In Pakistan, a exemplar of that spirit was the triumph of the blind cricket team, which went on to win the World Cup.

Just last week, a friend, Nadim, called to convey the sad news that his 2-year-old niece, who was born without a digestive tract, died in California after one of a series of operations went awry. The fact that the baby was born handicapped did not lessen the pain or the enormity of the loss for the family.

Perhaps, it is the "normal" people who may need some sort of therapy to realign their attitudes towards those hit by misfortune. One distasteful symptom is name-calling based on perceived physical or mental abnormality. Another is bullying, based on the targeted victim's incapacity to strike back. Both name-calling and bullying are a form of cowardice. Those who are eager to mock the meek are equally eager to prostrate themselves before the powerful.

Disability issues afflict nearly 10 percent of the population in Pakistan. Thankfully, in Pakistani society, there are a growing number of God-fearing souls who do not pursue power or seek glamour and who devote their energy to quietly helping the less fortunate. They may be the unsung heroes.

Some of the problems of attitude stem from parental pressures rooted at home. Because of brittle faith and lack of grasp of the ups-and-downs of life, there is over-reaction to temporary setbacks. Even minor setbacks are magnified, such as academic failures. At a time when the child most needs strength and encouragement, he receives humiliation. The city pages of Lahore newspapers reveal anecdotes wherein a child who has failed an exam has ended up committing suicide after being subjected to repeated scolding from elders.

The disparity between words and actions generates its own consequences.
While the focus is on formal education, less emphasis is placed on the instilling of sound values of knowledge. The Washington Post, in a recent article, unlocked one of the simple secrets why the Kennedy family flourished: 

    "The House of Kennedy was formed at the dinner table. The matriarch, Rose, posted news items on a bulletin board in the kitchen before dinner, and her children were expected to bone up so they could contribute to the conversation. One family friend remembers a map on the dining room wall that Joe Kennedy would unfurl to make geopolitical points to his children. Mealtime was lesson time."

One key lesson to be imbibed is that basic lessons begin at home. The test of any society hinges on how it views its weaker segments.

History is replete with examples that, as long as the human spirit is not disabled, the doors remain open for a life of dignity, security, and opportunity.

 

 

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