With a fist pump and a huge smile, Dora tells me she is going to vote in next week's local village elections. She is 23 years old but only started receiving an education three years ago. This is when she met the field worker from the local charity which supports young people who are deaf. This is when her life changed. This is when her sense of self-worth was realised, her rights were understood, her education started and the ability to communicate helped open up her world.
Like most deaf children in India, Dora grew up using local sign language with her family. Local sign language is simple actions that depict feelings or things like rubbing your stomach if you're hungry. You can get by but eventually you hit a wall. You cannot tell people what you're really thinking or feeling and in Dora's case, without any formal education, you cannot write it down either. Many of the parents we met felt a sense of hopelessness before the charity's intervention. They wondered how their children would ever get a job and earn money and they worried, especially for the girls, who would marry them and how they would be treated by their parents-in-law.
The charity does two things. Firstly, it puts in place the practical interventions that deaf children and young people need to progress. This includes educational support like teaching learning materials for the family, school or company and Indian Sign Language training for the whole family and wider community as well as vocational training for young people.
The second, perhaps more essential thing, which the charity does is providing psychological support and advice to children, young people and their families. Training and self-help groups help families learn about having deafness in the family, the causes and prevention, the rights of deaf children and young people and how to create a nurturing and safe environment for deaf children and young people to grow and develop.
Dora's excitement at voting for the first time is testament to her new found sense of confidence and independence. Her education and private one-to-ones with the community staff from the charity mean Dora can now read, write and count to 100. No mean feat for someone who was illiterate less than three years ago.
The vocational training in tailoring which Dora received from the charity has enabled her to earn her own income and she is able to save some money for her future. This is crucial and the independence ensures Dora is not forced to marry someone unsuitable. Dora's mother tells me that thanks to the field worker who visits she now understands the dangers of early marriage. Dora openly tells me that she has already said no to three suitors because they all drank too much. I was so glad to hear this.
I will remember Dora for a long time to come. She is only a few years younger than me and it was so great to see her thriving and the confidence she exudes. At the end she tells me, 'in my future, I know I will manage. I will be able to manage' and I absolutely believe that. She is a role model to other deaf children and their families who are unsure of what type of future their child can have and she will go on to be a fine mother and wife should she wish to in the next few years.