Ranjanben Vaghela, a 33-year-old woman from Khambhat town, in Ananda district of Gujarat, contracted conjunctivitis when she was three. Her family belonged to the community of people engaged in manual scavenging. With scarce knowledge and lack of development, finding other means of employment was not possible. Thus, she didn’t receive the medical care she needed. She was rushed to Ahmedabad Eye Hospital for treatment when she began to lose her sight. “Unfortunately, while waiting for an eye donation, my eyes started to ooze pus and had to be removed. So I grew up blind,” says Ranjanben.
Ranjanben lives with her family in a cemetery in Khambhat. “That is our address, and my work is to provide wood for cremation,” narrates Ranjanben about her work.
Like millions of other children who grow up in such communities, Ranjanben also thought she would end up living a life as that of her parents. However, things started changing as her parents were determined to help her do better.
She was enrolled in Andh Kanya School, Ahmedabad. Followed by this, she took up cooking classes at Pragnyachakshu School in Surendranagar. “I passed SSC in 2000 and since then, I’ve been associated with various organisations, such as Handicapped International, Disability Advocacy Group, Unnati, Janpath, Right to Information Initiative, Andhajan Mandal, Chetna and Action Aid,” says Ranjanben.
In 2013, she was appointed as the Anand District representative for an Advocacy Project. It was on Positive Changes in the Lives of People with Disabilities in South and Southeast Asia.
“I was awarded the Smt. Sumatiben Choksi Medal, by the Gujarat government, in 2004,” she beams with pride. Considering the numerous accolades she has earned, this was the most prestigious of all.
‘101 Stories of Inspiration’, a coffee table book, is a compilation of many stories of transformation of the people belonging to marginalised and vulnerable sections of the society. The book was launched at the Mission Paani World Toilet Day event on November 19, 2021.
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