“How does he manage to travel on his own? How does he perceive someone’s appearance? What does he see in his dreams? How does he use a cell phone?” these were some of the questions that Aamir and I were discussing as we were on our way to meet with Rashedujjaman Chowdhury, a social activist at Young Power in Social Action (YPSA) who isn’t blessed with eyesight. I first heard about Rashed bhai after joining CommunityAction (CA), during a discussion with Sohaila apu on possible Actions to be conducted in Chittagong. After hearing so many good things about him, I was eager to work with this person on some “Action”. I have always believed that one simply needs to think about the challenges of a less fortunate person in order to appreciate all that s/he has. However, getting to know Rashed bhai personally and knowing about his accomplishments first hand was inspiring in more than one level. A social activist with several Masters degrees from universities at home and abroad ; an IT instructor for the visually impaired; a responsible, and independent family man constantly attending to his family’s needs; Rashed bhai accomplishes much, much more than any ordinary individual on a daily basis, and he does not let his disability get in the way.
I met him for the first time at Zaman hotel in a very crowded area of the town. We met to primarily discuss the cost of converting a printed book to braille. Aamir and I reached the place at five minutes past seven and Rashed bhai was already waiting at the location. After we shook hands and settled around the table, we started talking, and the supposed one-hour meeting seamlessly turned into an engaging three hour long conversation. It was sort of a 101 course on the rights of disabled individuals on a national and international level and the current situation of these individuals in our country. During the meeting, Rashed bhai continued to surprise us with his skills. If only he could witness the baffled look on our faces as he took out his laptop and started putting it to work like a seasoned professional! In some ways he is more capable with a computer than us, and as we saw more and more of his ability to function just like (or even better than) any other person, our misplaced feelings of sympathy were replaced with those of awe and respect.
Since that first meeting we have met a number of times and stayed in touch almost regularly. Currently we are even working together on an Action. In the six months that I have known him for, I have never heard him complain for once about anything relating to his condition. Unlike many of us, he is content with what he has and makes the best of his situation despite the obvious challenges. Such resilience and strength of character is indeed admirable.
There are many things that we can learn from such exceptional individuals around us. And such learning would hopefully raise awareness and concern of the terrible condition of the disable communities in our country. Adequate public and media attention could be a first important step in changing that. Meeting Rashed bhai and learning through his experiences has been an eye opener, and I no longer have the naïve questions that I once had about his daily life and interactions. Although I may never know what his dreams look like, one thing’s for sure – people like Rashed bhai inspire me to expand the boundaries of my own dreams.