Our first impressions of New Delhi were of the very busy and chaotic traffic—and we fully saw some of India’s contrasts and contradictions. With the gap between the rich and the poor and the disparity in social power, I could hardly imagine the difficulties children with intellectual disabilities must face, in the schools and families we would be visiting on our journey.
The most important mission of this trip was to pick up the camera and use the lens to witness how the IKEA Foundation’s co-operation with Special Olympics in India is improving the education environment for children with intellectual disabilities and supporting and encouraging them, through sport, to lead a wonderful life.
The first school we visited, Little Angel Inclusive School, is supported by Special Olympics. It is a model school for showing how the Special Olympics Young Athletes programme works, and how it supports children with intellectual disabilities through early intervention with sports. It looked like a castle and it was a paradise for these little angels. When it was time for music, all the people in the gym were swinging happily. Slogans on the wall are full of love and encouragement. The children shouted to me happily: “Photo!” They were not afraid of the camera, they were not afraid of strangers, even though they didn’t know where we came from, and their faces were filled with pure smiles. They broke my feeling of pain when I first saw them. They did not need sympathy because they have the same normal life as ordinary people with the teachers and parents by their side.
One day we visited a school in the community. There was no advanced medical equipment, no vibrant and colourful classrooms, and no toys. Here, people’s first hope is to have enough food. In addition to physical needs, there are also the limitations of the caste system, old-fashioned thinking, and other challenges. Parents did not have extra resources and didn’t understand the need for children to enter school. Therefore, the school attracted them with exchanging food and communicating with them. They hope that through the tripartite of family, community and school trips, children’s learning will not be interrupted.
Because of language limitations, I could only observe with my camera and my own eyes. I found that the Indian people, whether or not they had intellectual disabilities, under the lens their eyes revealed the helplessness of life, but also the hope of life.
Sulekha, the programme co-ordinator for Special Olympics Bharat, explained to us what the situation is like. I cannot forget her words before going to visit a family’s home: “There should be no sadness in your face. Look at them with a positive attitude.”
We should not pity them. Although they are living in a different environment from us; they are not sad, there are just more difficulties in life to challenge them. When I thought I had a lot and I could give them some help, I found that I could not give anything that moment, because the purity of their eyes was what I had lost.
I am very proud to be a member of IKEA and to have the opportunity to participate in the IWitness team, to care for society together, to witness the IKEA Foundation and different agencies spreading love and hope in every corner of the world. I want to thank my team joining me in witnessing these seven days in India.