January 2017 By Jamuna Rangachari Speech and hearing impaired since birth, Murali Kuppusamy’s story is about the unflagging determination of a young boy to better the lot of people suffering from the same disability, says Jamuna Rangachari When given a challenge, some people convert it into an opportunity to not just overcome it, but go further and help others. Murali Kuppusamy’s life story made me realise how miraculous life can be if we realise that there is something inside us which is far superior to the circumstances that combat us. Fifty-six-year-old Murali was the fourth child of the late Shri Kuppusamy who was the District Collector of Coimbatore. In his family, while the first two children were born normal, the third child and Murali were born hearing and speech impaired. And even though the family learnt to communicate with each other, the world did not. His parents were very keen that Murali get educated but unfortunately, there were no special schools in Coimbatore back then. In the ‘60s, education for the deaf and dumb was unheard of in India. His father took a transfer to Thirunelvali where there was a school for children with special needs. Though Murali completed his school, he lost interest in academics and did not pursue it further as no one used sign language to teach students like him. His father set up a tailoring shop for him so that he could at least earn a living. Fortunately, Murali was a gifted sportsman, particularly in table tennis, where he started representing India at international events. As he had to travel often for sporting events, he had to close the tailoring shop. Finally, he moved to Ooty where he started work in the dispatch department of Hindustan Photo Films. It was at that time that he got married to Sudha, who also happened to be hearing impaired. Sadly, their initial attempts to have children ended in miscarriages, but their prayers were answered when finally they had a daughter, Sneha, who was perfectly healthy in all ways. His family was complete, and Murali was a happy man. A helping hand Around him, Murali saw that there were many other hearing- and speech-impaired people who were struggling to make both ends meet. He wanted to inspire them with the belief that there was nothing they could not do, and that disability need never be an excuse. With this in mind, in 2004, he and his wife Sudha formed an NGO. His organisation runs a special school for the hearing impaired, training them in life skills once their basic education is complete to enable then to become accomplished members of society. Students are trained in basic English, computer skills and other skills required for employment. An empathetic leader, he also began exploring his students’ other interests to understand what to do next. When asked what they liked doing, almost unanimously they said that they liked to cook and were willing to work at a café. He then approached the Rotary Club in Coimbatore with a proposal and their spokesperson instantly agreed. “They provided us space at Life Spring, the space where Rotary Club is situated, and we set up D Café. We started it with the intention of helping as many deaf people as possible,” he says. People began calling the cafe with orders for catering. Futhermore, a well known BPO in Coimbatore is also considering starting a café within its office. “Hopefully, this will get us further projects and I’ll be able to employ more deaf people in the city,” Murali says. He has also been a part of several national and international conferences for the deaf, has established a matrimonial website for the community, and provided deaf women with an empowerment scheme. Miles to go Now, Murali is the resource person for students and teachers in Deaf schools in India and Sri Lanka. He has visited more than 50 schools, motivated more than 5,000 students and has won the Best Social Worker award from the Chief Minister in Chennai in 2014. His daughter is also helping him as an interpreter in the foundation’s various endeavours and is proud of her father’s various achievements. Though the various awards he has won does make him feel good, he knows that there are still many more miles to go. He knows the deaf often remain in a cocoon of their own. To make their life better, he wishes to establish a TV channel that they can watch. In the area of education, he says, “Sadly, there are only two institutions in Coimbatore that offer a deaf student a degree, which is limited to a B.Com. A hearing -impaired person can therefore either take up work as a tailor, or as a help at eateries, or with online BPOs.” He hopes that government colleges would introduce sign language too as part of their curriculum. More than the government, he knows people need to change in their perception of others, and does all that he can to create a society that is open to all disabled people. Helen Keller said, “We are never really happy until we try to brighten the lives of others.” Murali would agree. About the author : Jamuna Rangachari writes and manages the websites of Life Positive. She has authored three books for children, compiled and interpreted Teaching Stories-I and II for Life Positive. and published a book through Hay House
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