Given the right opportunities, there is no reason why differently-abled people cannot achieve great heights.

 

“I believe I can now even teach others on how to model and do the catwalk,” says Surabhi Manandhar. It’s a pretty tall statement coming from one who herself has only just begun to learn the finer points of modeling. And, she doesn’t actually say it in so many words. Rather, it is her fast moving hands and fingers that do the talking, interpreted so ably Mrs. Parita Singh, Vice-president of Creative Hands for Deaf Women, the organization that made it possible for Surabhi to participate at the Miss Deaf International 2017 event in Paris from July 10-15, 2017, where she won the title of Miss Deaf Asia 2017.

Surely, this crowning achievement could be the reason for her boundless confidence, yet, listening to her parents, Mr. Priyadarshan and Mrs. Manjari Maharjan, their daughter has never lacked for a healthy dose of self-confidence even before achieving this resounding success.The second of three sisters, Surabhi was perfectly fine till she was nine months old. “She then suffered a lengthy bout of high fever, and that was when she lost her hearing,” discloses her mother sadly.

Although she had to be victim to such a terrible plight, Surabhi is fortunate to have such loving parents. As Mrs. Singh says, “She is indeed lucky; there are many deaf children who come to us who are considered to be burdens by their families.”At this point, the dusky Surabhi sends het a flurry of signals, her large dark eyes sparkling. “She says that it was her grandfather that she remembered first at the time of her victory,” is what she is saying. “Yes, it was her grandfather who really brought her up, creating new interests for her, and encouraging her at every step,” says her father with a wistful smile. “Unfortunately, he passed away about fifteen months ago, so he couldn’t witness his granddaughter’s great achievement.”

Surabhi has just finished her plus twelve from Kendriya Bahira Madhyamik Vidalaya in Naxal, and this, too, is quite an achievement one must say. However, her immediate academic plan has come across a serious hurdle.“She was bent on doing her BBA, but there are no colleges with sign language teachers,” discloses Mrs. Singh, who continuously combines sign language with she is saying, for Surabhi’s benefit. In response, the ebullient beauty again transmits a flurry of hand signals: “If I cannot do BBA, then I will take up art classes.” Apparently, she is quite good at painting and calligraphy, according to her father, who adds, “Even as a child, she used to draw figures wherever she could, and I did believe that she could be a good artist.” At this point, Mrs. Singh’s husband, Mr. Sanjeeb Man Singh, who is also an adviser at Creative Hands, says, “There aren’t many interpreters in Nepal, which is a pity. And, as far as I know, only B.Ed is available for deaf students in colleges here.”

As can be expected of a lively young girl, Surabhi is extremely fond of movies, which she signals to Mrs. Singh, adding also, “I have always loved watching films, and admire the heroines.” It is clear that she is also interested in exploring the modeling and acting fields. She also puts forward an opinion, “I think Nepali films are not progressing as much as expected, but they should develop in the future.” To a keen observer, this statement signifies that she is a strong individual with firm opinions of her own. Indeed, how can one think otherwise, when her singular feat of winning an international crown is certainly not due to luck alone. “The competition was on similar lines as any other beauty pageant,” reveals Mrs. Manandhar. “There was a panel of expert judges who asked probing questions in international sign language, and which the contestants had to answer likewise. There were also other selection criteria, one of them being the talent rounds.”

Surabhi performed a dance to the song of ‘MaitiGhar’, along with a Kumari dance, and of course she must have danced beautifully, for as she says through her gestures, “I have always liked dancing.” Her lissome frame and expressive eyes certainly are valuable assets for these artistic pursuits. While on the subject of judging and selection, Mr. Singh has a valid point to make, “We are actually quite weak in international sign language, and really, the requirements for such an international event were of much higher standards that what we had thought!”

However, it’s not that they had gone without any preparation, as such.“We advertised a few weeks before the date of the contest,” says Mrs. Singh, “and we put in some essential criteria that all potential participants had to fulfill, based on which we made our selections.” Even then, the realization soon dawned upon them that they would have to prepare their candidates better if they were to have any chance at the international level, so they approached The Hidden Treasure (THT) for support and advice. “Fortunately, Miss Nepal 2017 had just finished, and they were willing to help, but they did point out that the time was very short.” Anyway, THT provided them with whatever training was possible in that time, and the rest, as they say, has it made to the history books.

It is of course not only Surabhi who has earned a chapter, her compatriot, Janak Raj Bhatta, can also claim a few paragraphs, having made it to the top- five finalists’ list at the Mr. Deaf International 2017 contest at the same venue. He is from Mulchowk in Gorkha, his family comprising of a mother, four brothers (himself included), and a sister. He, too, has recently finished his plus twelve, and has been working for the last nine months at Sam’s Tree Restaurant in Durbar Marg. He says through sign language, interpreted by Sukan Man, son of Mr. and Mrs. Singh, who accompanied Janak to Paris as his interpreter, “I had free time after finishing school, so I wanted to utilize it productively.”

A young man with nice regular features, he seems to have come back from Paris with greatly increased motivation, and conveys to me his plans for the future. “I want to help set up an official office like The Hidden Treasure for the Mr. and Mrs. Deaf International pageant in Kathmandu. This will make it possible for future participants to be trained adequately, so that they do well in the competitions.” He appears quite animated when conveying this through his gestures, and one can assume that, indeed, he is pretty serious about it.

Besides this, he wants to learn international sign language, which definitely fits in with his above-mentioned plan, as this is an area in which Nepali participants must clearly be proficient so as to compete more strongly in international events. Photography is a hobby he particularly likes, as well. As he says all this through gestures, one cannot but noticean endearing mannerism of his—the way in which he gestures so emphatically, hands down, when signifying his agreement to a statement just made. One can assume that his openness and eagerness to please must have endeared him to the judges, as must have his performance depicting a typical rural scene of Nepal, as well as a khukuri dance, at the event.

I ask them about the experience of traveling to Paris, and not surprisingly, it is the ever ebullient Surabhi who answers with her usual swiftly moving hand gestures, so swift that often, Ms. Singh has to ask her to slow down! Anyway, this is what Surabhi says, “I was very scared at first, because I had never traveled out of Nepal. I was worried about how I would communicate and ask for assistance, if needed.” Her apprehensions were put to the rest, however, on landing, when they were met by a man named Bruce, deaf like themselves, who became their dedicated guide throughout their stay.

And, yes, both say that they really enjoyed their trip, as most others undoubtedly doin the city of great art, high fashion, fantastic cuisine, and the towering Tour de Eiffel, climbing which must be a highpoint for most. Surabhi and Janak, on the other hand, succeeded in reaching far greater heights than even that! 


Creative Hands of Deaf Women is located in Kumaripati, Lalitpur. It was established in 2011 with the mission of helping illiterate girls of sixteen and above from remote areas by teaching them sign language, along with skills, to enable them to gain employment and thus be self-dependent. It has further expanded its mission to include literate deaf girls, so as to develop and promote their talents. The organization is firm in its conviction that there are no limits to what deaf people can achieve given the right opportunities. Last year, they had the opportunity to present performances by their members in Italy, which included a Kumari dance and a drama called ‘Andhyaro-Ujayalo’. They have also performed a drama at the Russian Culture Center in Kathmandu called ‘Srijansil Haath Haru’, which was based on the organization’s own story. Creative Hands of Deaf Women’s current office bearers include Ms. Kalpana Bajracharya, President, Mrs. Parita Singh, Vice-president, Ms. Shikha Pradhan, Secretary, and Mr. Sanjeeb Man Singh, Adviser.