Meet The Woman In Meghalaya Creating One-Of-A-Kind Shoes For People With Disabilities

“Keep your face always toward the sunshine – and shadows will fall behind you.” – so said a wise person. I have often wondered how true this statement is and what example would portray it best. Today, I found a story that aptly depicts the essence of this quote.

We have often frowned upon certain people who cannot walk in a proper manner due to their deformed limbs. Consequently, these people cannot wear footwear (like we do) – and they generally have to walk barefoot over muddy terrains, wet, hot, slippery and even thorny paths that may cause them injuries for no fault of theirs!

However, have we ever thought of customising footwear according to the needs of these people? Even though we may have thought of it, we have not implemented it. But, this period of pain is soon coming to an end. Bethany Society, Shillong, Meghalaya, in collaboration with CBM India Trust, have come up with an orthopaedic shoe-making unit at Roilang Livelihood Academy, Bethany Society, Shillong. The unit was inaugurated on July 9, 2017. With an aim to remove the stigma attached to deformities, especially of the limbs, Bethany Society under the leadership of its executive director, Carmo Noronha, introduced the creative concept of shoe-making for ‘people with walking problems’.

Footwear on display at the orthopaedic shoe-making unit

In his inaugural speech, Noronha said, “This initiative is a culmination of the efforts of many stakeholders – including the unselfish support of the Christian Brothers, the Government of Spain (who aided in designing the present building of the Bethany society that was founded in 1981), the undying support of CBM India Foundation – and not to forget, Jurgen Thomas Schord, the Deputy Consul General of the German Consulate, Kolkata, who made it possible to avail the required machinery for the orthopaedic shoe-making unit at Roilang.”

However, the story behind the successful inauguration of the orthopaedic shoe-making unit is one of sheer determination and hard work which involved two rigorous years of training by Eldalyne Kharsati, a 43-year-old instructor at Bethany Society. After being sent to the Vietnamese Training Centre for Orthopaedic Technologists (VIETCOT) for learning the art of orthopaedic shoe-making, Kharsati became the only lady from northeast India to have earned a degree from Vietnam as a certified orthopaedic shoe technologist.

Other products at the unit

Speaking to The Northeast Today (TNT) News, Eldalyne said, “Although I had to stay away from my friends and family for two whole years, it was worth the effort. The long term objective and the positive mission kept me motivated – and now I am happy to have become a certified orthopaedic shoe technologist.” She smiled and added, “I am thankful to Bethany Society for giving me this golden opportunity. Through this, I will now be able to make lives better for many by making shoes fit according to their needs – while also helping people, including persons with disabilities, to learn this art so that they can sustain themselves and also create a multiplier effect.”

At the orthopaedic shoe-making unit, Eldalyne proudly displayed her work, so that the others could see and learn. It clearly portrayed the efficiency and qualities of the determined lady. From July 10, 2017 onwards, four students (three of them having disabilities) started their training under Eldalyne in advanced shoe-making.

Eldalyne Kharsati interacts with people while showing her craft.

All dignitaries present at the inaugural function were spellbound by this noble yet effective initiative, and spoke out in admiration for the same. In an interview with TNT, Karamai Kharkongor, the commissioner for persons with disabilities, said, “This is a very noble initiative that will empower people through honing their skills and helping them stand on their feet – thereby helping them to attain their livelihoods and becoming independent individuals.”

Ferdinand Marshillong, special educator for children with visual and hearing impairments at Bethany Society, said, “It will really be of great help if persons with disabilities can get full support by ensuring their full participation during the training process.”

[It may be recalled that Marshillong is the only person from northeast India to have received the Lalji Mehrotra Foundation Award for Excellence (Outstanding Employee) from the National Society for Equal Opportunities for the Handicapped (NASEOH), India, on December 9, 2016, in Mumbai.]

It should be mentioned that Eldalyne is a multi-talented person with several skills at her disposal. She has completed several courses – training in manufacturing leather/synthetic products (theoretical as well as practical), business enterprises and export management, entrepreneurship development programmes (EDPs) on jute-based soft luggage and leather products, a turnkey EDP, skill training in participatory learning and action (PLA), a diploma concerning the field of leather goods, a training in domestic methods of fruit and vegetable preservation, as well as courses in design and product manufacturing and development. These facts clearly justify the reason why she was chosen by Bethany Society to undergo the rigorous two year training in Vietnam.

Dignitaries pose for photographs at the end of the inaugural session.

This initiative is just one of the various facets of Bethany Society and its noble initiatives. These initiatives have spread far and wide across various regions, not only in northeast India but also across the whole nation!

The undying determination of women like Eldalyne proves that it is never too late to learn anything new. Life is always full of surprises for people who are willing to go beyond their limits and challenge their own abilities in the process!

A version of this post was first published here.

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