Bhawna work photos (9)Valued social roles often lead to very good things in life – important things like belonging, freedom, a decent reputation, and a positive self-image. This is theory – simple facts that might be very useful when supporting people with disability to live full lives.

But when these ideas take root in the lives of real people trying to live their best lives, theory comes alive and holds deep meaning for those impacted.

Today, we reflect on and honor Bhawna, who moved out of a government institution after being held there for a decade – this is 3,650 days of her one and only life to live. This is 87,600 hours of her precious time. 52,56,000 minutes waiting for a second chance to take her place in the community.

Bhawna Pretty 1Nearly two years later, living in a regular home in a regular neighborhood, Bhawna leaves no stone unturned in her experiencing everything community has to offer.

She is literally diving in, as she did the first time she was exposed to a swimming pool since she was a small child living by a riverside in an unknown part of India. She has put her whole self into learning new skills, like using the computer, using a sewing machine to make beautiful things, cooking all sorts of delicious foods, and entertaining visitors in her home. She celebrates with gusto at weddings and community events, and has experienced deep frustration at the restrictions on community life that pandemic times have caused.

Work has been an area of exploration – Bhawna has her own clothes for the first time in many, many years. She wants to earn real money to buy the things that she wants and participate in the local economy. She has explored different role options while being supported by others to experiment – to test her gifts, to uncover her interests. Stitching, design, cooking, making handcrafts were all explored, but did not fully fit. Bhawna wants to BE with people – a naturally social person, she yearns to be with everyday people from the community. She is tired of being labeled a so-called special person and kept in groups with others also seen as “special.”

This means that the work roles which fully fit Bhawna will engage her as an intrinsic part of the community. She has so much to offer. The need is to accept it, learn it, find a valued role, step into it, maintain it, and defend it. Many were the options that were placed before her. Many places where the community would be richer because of her involvement.

Bhawna with income for 8 days- Anurudh'sShe tried all of them but was not gainfully employed with a real salary with typical people. Then a small gathering of local business leaders was held.  And one businessman came forward and said he was willing to have Bhawna try working in his department store. When she arrived for the trial, one of the women invited her to join the circle of women doing the packaging work, all together. Bhawna took her place and immediately could feel that this was indeed her place. You could almost hear the click. From doing the work, to making friends with the colleagues, Bhawna was right there, one of them. Not only did she look the part, she was skilled to do the work. Training on the job took place and Bhawna learned at a fast pace. Not only was there image enhancement, as the guiding theory requires, but also competency enhancement. Both are made visible and very real in Bhawna’s life. So real you can almost feel it.

And then the day for paychecks came. The local business man said, “Same work, same pay.” What a joy for Bhawna to the paid the same wages as everyone else. And what a way to take one’s place in the community, as a valued member and employee. Slow, sure and important steps were taken to facilitate Bhawna into the important role of employee. And a valued community member led the way to ensure that Bhawna was one of the valued workers of his place. Theory is just theory. But theory made real in the lives of others is what brings the gifts that Bhawna has to offer with a community which needed those gifts.