Hesperian Health Guides
Chapter 1: How Can I Help My Child?
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The Stories of Kamala and Rani
Kamala and her parents Suma and Anil live in a small village in southern India. When Kamala was very young, her parents noticed that she never reached for the toys they offered her. So they took her to the doctor in a nearby town to see what was wrong.
The doctor told them that Kamala was almost blind. She could see some movement and the difference between light and dark, but nothing more. “Her sight will not get better,” the doctor said. Suma and Anil returned home, very sad. “How could this have happened?” Suma thought. “She is such a nice child.” Suma was sad for a long time.
Suma and Anil cared for Kamala the best they could.
Because Anil’s work did not pay enough to feed his family, Suma and her 2 older daughters made clothes to sell at the market. There was little time to play with Kamala while the family worked, and she spent most of the day sitting quietly in the corner. Sometimes Suma worried that Kamala rarely moved or made sounds, but she also was relieved that Kamala seemed content just being near them.
By the time Kamala was 3, she knew only a few words. She seemed to be lost in her own world most of the time, making strange movements like poking her eyes or flapping her hands. She could not feed or dress herself. It was faster for Suma to do these things for her.
Because Kamala did not play as other children her age did, and had not learned to care for herself, her arms and legs never grew strong. When other children her age were learning to stand and walk, Kamala’s legs were too weak to support her weight.
When she was old enough to start school, Kamala’s parents carried her to the schoolhouse. But school frightened her, because she had never been away from home. Day after day Kamala sat in class and cried. If the teacher spoke to her she would not answer. Finally, Suma and Anil decided that school was not helping Kamala and stopped taking her. But they worried about her future. “If she can’t get an education, how will she live? Who will take care of her when we are gone?”
Rani is a little blind girl, born in another village in India. When her parents Jeevan and Aruna learned their baby was blind, Rani’s grandmother Baka said, “We should do everything we can to teach this baby. Look at me. I lost my sight 5 years ago. I can still do most of the things I used to do. I still bring water from the well. I still milk the goats.”
“But you could already do all those things before you went blind,” Jeevan replied. “How could a blind baby learn?”
“We must help her learn,” Baka answered him. “Just as I’ve learned to do things by sound and touch, so Rani must learn.”
The health worker suggested they give Rani lots of objects to play with, and encourage her to use her hearing, touch, and smell to make up for what she could not see. “And talk to her a lot,” the health worker said.
Baka, especially, had Rani touch and listen to everything. She played games with her and sang to her. When Rani was 2, Baka taught her to feel her way along the walls and fence, just as she did. By age 3, Rani could find her own way to the latrine and the well.
Jeevan, Aruna, and Baka did not have a lot of time to do special activities with Rani. They worked long hours in their small shop. But they helped Rani learn new skills by including her in what they were already doing, like going to the market. These simple, everyday activities made a big difference in helping Rani develop many skills.
When Rani started school, the local children came for her every day. When the villagers saw them all walking down the road together, it was hard to tell which child was blind.
Understanding the stories of Kamala and Rani
If your child cannot see well or is blind, you can help her learn many skills, just as Rani’s family helped her. But it is important to understand why Rani was able to learn the skills other children her age were learning while Kamala did not learn them.
To understand this, it helps to know :
- how children develop (learn new skills as they grow)
- how difficulty in seeing affects development