Sankarlal is trying to pose for a photo with his wife Gomati, but she’s laughing at our photographer’s sweaty hands.
In his defence, it’s nearly 40C, and we’ve been out in the blazing sun for quite a while, taking shots of the couple walking together and chatting with them about their lives. They’re keen to share their story; it’s inspiring and happy.
Photo © Graeme Robertson
Like many inspiring stories, it started with a challenge. Sankarlal’s sight began to deteriorate in his early teens, as a result of cataractsin both eyes. By the time he was 14 he was completely blind, and treatment to fix the problem was unsuccessful. “In the first couple of years it was difficult to manage daily life,” he says. “But after that I accepted I would not see again, and I adjusted.”
He grew up, married Gomati and had three children (now aged 10, six and four). Although the family were getting by, Sankarlal was frustrated as few job opportunities were available to him.
I used to sit inside the house and my wife used to go to work and support me
Sankarlal’s life changed when he joined a group funded by Sightsavers and set up by the URMUL Trust for people with disabilities (known as a DPO, or disabled people’s organisation). DPOs are generally run by and for people with disabilities, and their purpose is empowerment: informing people of their rights, supporting them to gain skills and employment, and making them strong advocates for others with disabilities.
For Sankarlal, the DPO was vital in assisting him with a loan application. He had decided he wanted to start a business, but although he knew the government had loans available for people with disabilities, he was struggling with the paperwork side of things. The DPO provided information that helped him to complete his application and after that, he never looked back.
Photo © Graeme Robertson
At first Sankarlal had a mobile shop on a bicycle, then he acquired a building by the house. Initially it was just a small shop selling soap and chocolate, but with the loan he was able to expand and buy more goods. Now he has bigger products to sell, such as vegetables and pulses, and a refrigerator for cold drinks.
He’s proud to have shown people that disability doesn’t mean a job and income is out of reach.
Now I earn myself. Before people thought I was unproductive, they pitied me, but now I stand on my own legs. My family think I am one of them and can do what they do.
He’s also happy that now there are many members of the DPO. “Joining the group has brought a lot of change in my life,” he says. “I want to see all people with disabilities stand on their own feet and earn.
“I want to help others and increase numbers in the group. I am confident I can lead the DPO and get things done by the government. I am very happy because I have my wife, kids and family. I will continue expanding my shop.”