About 10 years ago I taught a group of children to sail. They were
bright, enthusiastic and as keen to enjoy life as any other child. All
however, had a serious disability. Three were in wheelchairs, paralyzed from
the waist down. One was nearly blind and had a deformity of his right arm.
Two were able to walk with difficulty, afflicted with Cerebral palsy.
The seventh little boy I will never forget. I will call him Matthew.
He too had cerebral palsy and was very badly afflicted. His hands and arms
were both deformed from the disease and inactivity. His back was bent. His
face was distorted and his legs did not work. Even his laughter was a
tinkling cough, which racked his body. To speak, Matthew had the help of
a letter board. Slowly, and with deliberate determination, he would point
out with distorted hands, letter by letter, what he wanted to say.
he would try to talk. His voice was so distorted that even his constant
caretaker could not understand most of his whispered growl. Yet he was
always bright and cheerful and loved to try everything his classmates
were doing, both in the boat and in the classroom.
I loved my time with them; they were always so cheerful and full of
life. They learnt fast and most of all enjoyed every minute of the classes.
But despite all that I was the one who learned the greatest lesson. One day
the sailing centre was assailed by a storm. The wind howled and the rain
came down in torrents. Rather than cancel the session we decided to work in
classroom. All the children joined in. Just like other children they all
wanted to answer the questions I asked. It was important to get them all
involved. I would ask questions of the quieter children to draw them out
Often they would loudly interrupt each other, trying to get an answer
in before one of the others. But when Matthew wanted to answer a question
it was different. All of a sudden they all quieted. Matthew whispered and
gesticulated at his board. They waited. Matthew struggled with dogged
persistence until the answer was spelled out. Then, if I did not
understand, one of the other children would work with him until the answer
clear. When Matthew had answered his question the children were, almost
magically, transformed back into a rabble of noisy and enthusiastic
All of these children were heroes in their own way. But the tolerance
they afforded to Matthew with his most severe disabilities was
At just fourteen years old, these disabled children had learned to afford
care, respect and help to someone less fortunate thanthemselves. If only
rest of the world were able to learn the same lessons. Bigotry, violence
intolerance would be gone.