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People are People

People are People

It’s 7:00am. Rise and shine. There’s a big day ahead of us. Brush my teeth, get dressed, apply generous amounts of sun block and bug spray, and I’m ready to go. Time for a quick breakfast in the hotel restaurant – two eggs, over easy, a couple slices of bread, and some apple juice – and then we pack into the van like sardines and we’re on our way.

When I woke up that morning, I was completely unprepared for the day ahead of me. Physically, I was jetlagged from the previous marathon day of travelling. Mentally, I was simply unable to fathom the situation which I would soon enter. It’s not that I was about to find myself inside of some kind of horror movie. No. It was far from that. However, it ended up being something that I thought only existed in books and on TV. For me, it had never been so real. The plight of people with disabilities, especially those in non-first-world nations, is kept one step removed from the general populace. We don’t want to hear, see, or speak about them in our daily lives, much less actually do something to help them.

We walked silently through the hospital complex, trying to blend in as much as possible. Our general appearance didn’t help much, but everyone was else was too busy with their own business that they didn’t notice. Reaching our building, the bare, sterile hallways clashed against the low roar of hundreds of voices coming from the crowds of people outside waiting to be seen. We too, are waiting; waiting to be let in.

Finally, the moment was about to come. One of the prime directives of Viet2010 was about to be fulfilled – to learn and to understand how people with disabilities are cared for by different organizations. Personally, I’m not sure I wanted to be there. I’ve said before that I was unprepared, but I was also reluctant – reluctant to face the oft neglected side of society. In the past, I have done volunteer work with children, but never with people with disabilities, much less children with disabilities. I suppose it’s not that I didn’t want to be there, but that I was scared of what I might find. It’s so easy for us to look away, and yet ever so difficult to open our eyes.

The ward was tiny, four or five rooms connected by a single cramped hallway, barely wide enough for two wheelchairs to pass comfortably through. Each room was sparsely decorated with large cribs, pushed up against walls, with only the bare floor lying between them. There were no doors, only gates waist-high, separating the inner from the outer. The children, however, were vibrant. Intermingled amongst the staff and volunteer, they yearned to be held, to be played with, to be loved.

The most important lesson I learned from today is something that practically goes without saying. However, at the same time, it bears repeating. People are people. Regardless of whom you are, what you do, or what disabilities you may have, you are and always will be a person. And as such, you are entitled to all the rights associated with being a human being, including the right not to be cast off as invalid because of your physical appearance. Today I witnessed a girl, who, though she had great difficulty speaking and is physically different, showed more humanity and compassion than I have seen in a long time. Because of her disabilities, she was cast off and sequestered from society, but unlike others, she has not turned her back on anybody. Though only slightly more capable than some of the other children, she took it upon herself to help with the care of her fellows, directing traffic in the cramped corridor of the wing and keeping more disruptive children from escalating their behaviors. Though other children were content with watching old cartoons on the grainy color television overhead, she was not. She was more able and she took it upon herself to do more. We are more able. We all need to do more.

 


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