by David Brown, Chief Executive of the Margaret Carey Foundation
This is a true story about the wife of the Deputy High Commissioner of Chennai, India, a little orphan boy called Manikandam, and a prison workshop in Lancashire, England.
Elizabeth H was, in her own words, “not best pleased to be where I was on this our last posting” and initially did very little in the first few months in Chennai. However, there were a group of people who had volunteered to help teach English to children in a local orphanage and Elizabeth was persuaded to join them and into her class (and life) came Manikandam.
It was the way Manikandam entered the class that caught the attention – he dragged himself in across a courtyard. He was unable to use his legs or lift his head, and didn’t speak or communicate in anyway – but still he kept coming to the class. The Deputy High Commissioner’s wife set out to get Manikandam a wheelchair, which proved an extraordinarily difficult and protracted procedure. Eventually, after many months a wheelchair arrived but it proved totally unsuitable for Manikandam who was more uncomfortable in the chair than he was dragging himself through the mud and dirt. Also he was still facing down, so communication did not improve. Everyone concerned with the boy thought he was mute and probably deaf as well.
At this juncture Elizabeth came home on leave, met a friend and told her of Manikandam and his plight. This friend knew of the Inside Out Trust (a precursor to the Margaret Carey Foundation) and Elizabeth attended a staff meeting to see if the Trust could help. I was able to offer her the services of HMP Garth where I had established a wheelchair project and in which they (in the form of a gifted prisoner, and with the help of adjoining workshops) made a specially adapted wheelchair for Manikandam, making use of the workshop instructor’s home computer and the wonders of email.
During the course of these events, someone asked me, if we can send one wheelchair to Chennai why not more than one as the need there was very great. We enlisted the help of British Airways who flew one hundred wheelchairs in crates that had been made by Wymott prison next door to Garth. The workshop instructor at Garth, Dave Kellett, went along at his own expense and landed with these one hundred chairs and met Elizabeth.
What followed was the distribution of these wheelchairs, which DK recorded and photographed. When Manikandam was placed in his chair it was so designed that his head faced forward and was slightly raised so he could see his surroundings.
What amazed Elizabeth, the other volunteers, and DK was the beautiful smile Manikandam gave to all around him, what was even more amazing was the fact that the boy had learned some English and could hear and speak. He was in fact from another part of India and so did not know the local language. Which was partly why he had never spoken. Although still living in an orphanage, he is now more independent and of course able to communicate and join in with the other children. E.H. Dave Kellett and others still stay in touch and offer support to Manikandam and as far as I know he is still doing well and has proved himself to be a bright student.