In his defence, it’s nearly 40C, and we’ve been out in the blazing sun for quite a while, taking shots of the couple walking together and chatting with them about their lives. They’re keen to share their story; it’s inspiring and happy.
Like many inspiring stories, it started with a challenge. Sankarlal’s sight began to deteriorate in his early teens, as a result of cataracts in both eyes. By the time he was 14 he was completely blind, and treatment to fix the problem was unsuccessful. “In the first couple of years it was difficult to manage daily life,” he says. “But after that I accepted I would not see again, and I adjusted.”
He grew up, married Gomati and had three children (now aged 10, six and four). Although the family were getting by, Sankarlal was frustrated as few job opportunities were available to him. “I used to sit inside the house and my wife used to go to work and support me,” he says.
Sankarlal’s life changed when he joined a group funded by Sightsavers and set up by the URMUL Trust for people with disabilities (known as a DPO, or disabled people’s organisation). DPOs are generally run by and for people with disabilities, and their purpose is empowerment: informing people of their rights, supporting them to gain skills and employment, and making them strong advocates for others with disabilities.
For Sankarlal, the DPO was vital in assisting him with a loan application. He had decided he wanted to start a business, but although he knew the government had loans available for people with disabilities, he was struggling with the paperwork side of things. The DPO provided information that helped him to complete his application and after that, he never looked back.
At first Sankarlal had a mobile shop on a bicycle, then he acquired a building by the house. Initially it was just a small shop selling soap and chocolate, but with the loan he was able to expand and buy more goods. Now he has bigger products to sell, such as vegetables and pulses, and a refrigerator for cold drinks.
He’s proud to have shown people that disability doesn’t mean a job and income is out of reach. “Now I earn myself. Before people thought I was unproductive, they pitied me, but now I stand on my own legs. My family think I am one of them and can do what they do.”