Dr. Uma Tuli, the founder of Amar Jyoti Charitable Trust in New Delhi, pointed to a black-and-white photograph of a young man and woman on her office wall. Her eyes softened as she told the story of her brother losing his leg in an accident. Finding treatment and post-surgery help for him had been a long and arduous journey, but what she discovered on that path was that there were countless other people with disabilities also suffering from a lack of services to help them.
She vowed she would make a difference.
Taking the money she had saved during her teaching career, Dr. Tuli founded the Amar Jyoti Charitable Trust School. She started with a group of 30 children in 1981 under a tree, and today, the school has more than 800 children on two campuses in India.
The facilities provide preventive, curative and rehabilitative services to Amar Jyoti students on site as well as to patients from economically weaker sections of society. Services are either free of cost or at subsidized rates. They include: Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy, Speech and Audiology Therapy, Prosthetic and Orthotic Workshops, Dental Care, Ophthalmologic Care, X-Ray Unit, Pathology Laboratory and much more.
I felt quite fortunate not only to tour the amazing Rehabilitation and Research Center and meet many of its medical professionals and teachers, but to also meet and talk with Dr. Tuli herself who reminded us that inclusivity in education and society is vital, that education, health and employment must be looked at holistically, and finally that “Education is a journey, not a destination.”
Dr. Tuli also loves the quote from Leo Buscaglia, “Too often, we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
Dr. Tuli and her staff take time not just to learn as much as possible about each person they service, but also to find hidden talents that can be honed and used to help each person find gainful employment and success.
At the New Delhi center, two young men gleefully showed us how they took colorful material and affixed it to folders, notebooks and photo albums that they had beautifully handcrafted themselves. A quiet woman smiled as she gestured to the sturdy burlap bags she had sewn with peach and gold trim and a zippered top. And the potter talked of how his family had all been clay workers as he masterfully shaped a vase from a lump of clay.
Seeing the glow on their faces as they shared stories of their successes and showcased their handiworks in clay, sewing, paper goods and jewelry-making were all the proof needed to show that they had found happiness and self-worth at Amar Jyoti.
Dr. Tuli still diligently works toward her ultimate vision of inclusive education, integrated sports and cultural activities. She dreams of an India which places its citizens with disabilities on the same plane as non-disabled citizens.
Her “Amar Jyoti” – eternal flame – continues to burn brightly, lighting the way.