Right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness must not be denied to the disabled…
We believe that each one of us has the right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. These rights must not be denied to those who do not fit society’s norm of a “normal” person. Handicapped people must have self-esteem and I wait for the day when a disabled child can learn and grow along side an able-bodied child without hesitation, fear, or shame.
Twenty years and still working…
I grew up in a small town in Punjab where I received my early education. After I did my master’s degree in English at the Punjab University, I came to the University of Idaho in 1970 and worked for a master’s degree in Education. In 1978, I earned a doctorate in English at the Washington State University. I taught English and humanities at the Washington State University, University of Miami, and Colorado State University until 1986 when I joined The Boeing Company as a technical editor. I took this job because my wife Swarn who is a computer scientist kept changing jobs but it had become difficult for me to find a teaching position at a university in the area of humanities which was already saturated. I thought this would be a temporary assignment but it has been 20 years and I am still working at Boeing.
The pain and the anguish of disabled children hit me the hardest…
I have always viewed my career (as Senior Instructional Designer for Boeing) more as a necessity than a passion. I grew up in a lower middle class family and have experienced the scarcities and deprivations of life from a close angle. After I decided to settle down in the US, the thought of giving back to my native land became strong enough that I started to support children from poverty stricken families in India. I have always believed that education is the only way to break the cycle of chronic poverty, disease and starvation – India’s perennial problems. A turning point came in March 2001 when I traveled to Bhuj (Gujarat) to find out how people coped with a devastating natural calamity. While those who had lost their families and homes suffered enormously, the pain and the anguish of disabled children hit me the hardest. I traveled around India visiting institutions for the disabled and came back with a resolve to work toward helping disabled children.
IAEF supports a number of projects in India to educate children with multiple disabilities.
The Indian American Education Foundation (IAEF) was set up in May 2000 as a grassroots, voluntary effort to help educate the mainstream America about the Indian American community and its cultural heritage. So IAEF started to set up India Research Scholarship endowments at universities in the US; distribute books about India free of charge (our current selection is Robert Arnett’s India Unveiled); and facilitate Study Abroad programs in India. However, our focus now has somewhat changed. The IAEF mission is to: raise awareness about the plight of children with disabilities; provide education on the perils of discrimination and segregation of the disabled; support integrated educational programs that minimize the gap between the disabled and the able-bodied children; and enable disabled children to become productive through skill-based learning and vocational training. IAEF supports a number of projects in India to educate children with multiple disabilities. We sponsor teachers from India to train at Perkins School for the Blind in Boston and at the Hope Center of William Beaumont Hospital in Detroit for autistic children. Through our “Voice and Vision” initiative, we are setting up regional centers in India to provide training and resources to teachers of blind and deaf children.
We felt that our voice would be more powerful if we organized ourselves into a political entity.
Earlier, in 1994, I co-founded the Indian American Political Advocacy Council (IAPAC). The IAPAC was set up mainly for two reasons. One, we felt that some of the foreign policies and practices of the US government were not aligned to the geo-political realities of the Indian sub-continent. A case in point was the US decision to sell F-16s to Pakistan, which we had no doubt would seriously jeopardize the power balance in the region and pose a grave threat to India’s security. In order to oppose this move, we felt that our voice would be more powerful if we organized ourselves into a political entity. Two, we wanted to send out a wakeup call to the Indian American community as it chose to remain invisible and apathetic within the political process. We believe that we did make progress in connecting the community with the legislative powers by educating the community about the importance of involvement in the political process and by taking action on issues that we believed were critical to the Indian American community. We are pleased to note that our next generation is already playing the role that we had envisioned for our generation with even more success than we had.
We are determined to continue to follow the path led by Sunil Dutt’s vision, commitment, and service to humanity.
We started the Nargis Dutt Memorial Cancer Foundation of Washington in 1996 at the suggestion of Sunil Dutt. The purpose was to raise funds in the US to be able to donate medical equipment to charitable hospitals in India for providing free treatment to cancer patients. Sunil Dutt attended our annual fundraisings faithfully and we were able to donate medical instruments, notably color Doppler scanners, for diagnosing cancer victims to charitable hospitals in India. Since his death last year, the Foundation seems to have lost its inspiration. However, we are determined to continue to follow the path led by Sunil Dutt’s vision, commitment, and service to humanity.
My family is very supportive of my work with the disadvantaged and disabled children.
My wife, Swarn, earned her Ph.D. in Computer Science at the Washington State University in 1981 and after teaching at the University of Miami and Colorado State University accepted a research position at The Boeing Company in 1986. She is currently an Associate Technical Fellow with the company.
Our daughter, Rashmi, received her M.D. from the University of Washington Medical School in 2003 and is now a second year resident at the Univ. of Washington. She spent part of 2004 doing volunteer work at the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences in Chandigarh and visited several of the IAEF projects in India.
If I could bring change in the life of one child...
Childhood, we tell ourselves, should be that blissful state of innocence and joy, but this is often not the case for children who are disabled. If I could bring in positive change in the life of one child who has no dream, no hope because of a mental or physical handicap, I will consider my efforts worthwhile.