An LLF Origin Story

As cliché as it sounds, there is one overarching reason why we get educated. Regardless of our major, what profession we wish to pursue, what school we go to, where we are from, and where we are going; we wish to leave our mark on this world. As a wide-eyed, overeager freshman at Johns Hopkins, it was this very driving force that brought me to the Lotus Life Foundation (LLF). Too many clubs promised grandiose changes, real world applications, yet so many fell short. As a general body member I usually felt like an unhelpful, unimportant minion. With this in mind you can imagine how nervous I was to be interviewing for LLF.

I walked in, wearing my button down to find Param, Andrew, and the rest of the Executive team at the time. Andrew handed me the latest CAD design for the gait trainer and asked me to make changes to it. I was asked what I could bring to the non-profit, my skills, and my understanding of the projects. As I fidgeted in my seat, hands clammy, I congratulated myself for not saying anything weird yet, that is until I did this.

To be honest, I have forgotten exactly what Param asked, but it was something along the lines of “Why is it important for you to join Lotus Life?”

And I, in my new found, more comfortable state, rambled on about my interest in medicine, and specifically pediatrics, before getting more general. “My big goal is to do my part to end the stigma that goes along with disabilities in India. A lot of parents simply deny that there is anything wrong with their kids, and the Indian society in general shun anyone with any kinds of disabilities. You know just like in Taare Zameen Par.”

“There it is.” I thought to myself, “You finally messed up.” The interview was going too well anyways. I had just referenced an Aamir Khan movie in a major non-profit interview. Param smiled a bit, while Andrew looked downright perplexed. Rather than flounder, I decided to elaborate.

Taare Zameen Par is a critically acclaimed Bollywood movie, directed by Aamir Khan, who is famous for his social activism in India. The movie itself follows the story of Ishaan, a young boy with dyslexia, misunderstood by family, teachers, and peers alike. He is known as a trouble child simply due to his inability to perform academically in the normal, high pressure Indian school system. When his teacher, played by Aamir Khan himself, notices Ishaan’s dyslexia and approaches his family about the disorder, Ishaan’s father becomes angry, and takes it as a personal insult. He simply believes that Ishaan is a troubled, lazy child, who would become a more efficient learner through strict schooling.

Here is where real life situations and a fictitious movie intersect. The plight of Ishaan is one known all too well by children of India, and even those outside of India, like me. I was born with dysgraphia, a disorder in which the muscles in one’s fingers are not fully developed. Due to this, I struggled with simple tasks such as having clear handwriting, tying my shoes, or even coloring inside the lines as a young child. My parents tirelessly worked with me to correct my handwriting, and my teachers quickly labeled me as lazy, even though I was one of the brighter students in class. I was diagnosed while in middle school, and luckily through the support of my parents, and occupational therapists, I have gained sufficient fine motor skills to succeed in my education.

Unfortunately, kids in India are not so lucky. Most adults in India consider learning disabilities to be non-existent and will vehemently deny that their children have any such disorder. This stigma associated with learning disabilities makes it extremely hard for children in India to receive the necessary help they need to be functioning members of society. Therefore, without changing the stigma surrounding disabilities, none of the aid that the Lotus Life Foundation works so hard to put together would be very helpful. This is why through the lotus life foundation, we make sure to not only attempt to remediate the effects of disease such as cerebral palsy, but also educate the people of India about these diseases.

From that interview I went on to help design a sustainably made gait trainer, aiding in a tele-training program for our partner physical therapist in Himachal Pradesh, and most importantly, making strides to both empower our patients with disabilities in India, and educating their loved ones about their condition. Although I concede we may not look as smooth as Aamir Khan as we do it, I am proud to say that through Lotus Life, we are truly making a difference.

— Pranshu Bhardwaj, Education Team Leader

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