Hindu Daily News Sunday Jan. 18, 2004
Chennai, Jan. 17. Most storied begin with a bang, or a whimper. But this one started with silence— the accidental silence of Dr. Raj Desai’s fourth child. Anjali, born in 1964.
It was an accident that Pratima Desai contracted German Measles from a neighbor who dropped into their home in Boston, U.S. Unfortunately, Ms. Desai, or rather, her fourth-born—Anjali—became a victim of the Rubella epidemic that was sweeping across the U.S.
This diverted the Indian oncologist from his study of carcinogenic cells onto rehabilitation of person with hearing impairment. He stumbled on Gallaudet University, Washington, a varsity for the deaf and discovered that the best way to teach his child was to use a combination of sign language, lip reading and speech.
When Anjali went on to acquire a master’s degree and work at Gallaudet University, Dr. Desai did not think his task complete.
In fact, that is when the India chapter of the story began. He was attracted by a newspaper article about two villages in Hubli, Karnataka—Sulalli and Basavanakoppa—in which more than 30 percent of the population was deaf. Dr. Desai and his team of Rotarians discovered that the primary causes of deafness were water (single source) pollution, inbreeding and chronic ear infections caused by pouring coconut oil into the ears of infants.
This time, Dr. Desai, had to contend with the silent worlds of hundred of children. He started Project Deaf India and with funds from Rotary Clubs, his team dug three sub-terranean wells providing pure water, established a school and health clinic and distributed hearing aids to the children..
Soon, the changes began to show. The wells brought water to the villagers and hearing aids, sound. “The transformation was magical. Children told me they could hear the birds sing again,” Dr. Desai says.
Not one to rest on his laurels, the octogenarian is presently working to vaccinate teenage girls against German Measles. Mobil vans also comb the villages in and around Mysore to detect deafness in children.
“Every child has some residual hearing. We have to give him/her a fair chance and the right training to develop,” Dr. Desai says.
In quite the manner of warrior on a battlefield, he believes that it is his task to ensure that every deaf child in the country gets that chance.