By TMO | September 20, 2007
By Adil James, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)
Farmington–September 19–Indians with disabilities are third-class citizens, almost unable to leave their own homes. That’s the background that gave Mohammad Yousuf, president of HelpHandicap, an interest in helping people in India work through and overcome their disabilities.
HelpHandicap is a 501(c)(3) organization founded in 2001 to help support people in India with disabilities. Its founder and president are Mohammad Yousuf, a GM engineer who himself was afflicted by polio in his youth and was forced to emigrate to the United States in order to pursue his career as an engineer. With its several Muslim Indian professionals in different fields including engineering and medicine, HelpHandicap provides critically important services in enabling the lives and livelihoods of Indians whose talent would otherwise be left to rot because of disabilities that in this country would be looked on as serious inconveniences rather than life-ending barriers.
HelpHandicap Treasurer Yousuf Hussain explained to TMO that Mohammad Yousuf “approached me in 2001, and showed me the statistics about Indian disabled people, how their lives could change to a great degree–What is standing between them and being self-reliant is probably a donation of a few dollars.” Having been friends with Mohammad Yousuf already for about 9 years, Yousuf Hussain joined his friend to build the Not-for-profit. Jamal Khan is a member of the board of directors for HelpHandicap. He exemplifies the the solid professional credentials of the people associated with HelpHandicap–also a GM engineer, he explains that he joined the organization about a year ago “because I have seen them do good work and good things.”“People without any hope, we are able to support them,” Khan explains.
Mohammad Yousuf faced all of the social, professional and cultural barriers that impede Indians with disabilities. Having a disability in India “has a negative connotation in society,” he explains. The mid-forties man has a kind disposition and a patience that bespeaks the difficulties he has suffered.
Yousuf’s polio made it impossible for him to walk without crutches; for years his family kept him at home although some family members (Yousuf mentions especially his grandmother and his father) encouraged him to pursue an education. When he started attending school he advanced very rapidly through the grades, and was able through perseverance to obtain an engineering degree.
“I have lived the life of hardships in India, facing roadblocks.” He faced discrimination that would be illegal in the US–he was not allowed to enter one engineering school because the administration feared he would drop test tubes and injure other students. He was only admitted to Usmaniyya University on condition that he repay the school for anything he might damage because of his disability.
Marriage in India is difficult for people with disabilities–and the stigma of disability is so great that even the family members of people with disabilities have difficulty marrying. Fortunately Yousuf was able to come to the US, and married and fathered, so far, three children. His career was blessed also, granting him a lifestyle that would have been very difficult as a disabled person in India.
“All along I felt that I was really blessed to be where I am. Especially since Allah gave me all this, and I have been able to live a very good life.” Approaching some good friends, he decided to make use of his knowledge of volunteer work and of the difficulties faced by Indians with disabilities to create Help Handicap.
The first year, he explains, they collected $6,000. “Then it went, progressing every year–11,000, then 18,000, then 35,000–every year it went in the up direction.” Starting with almost a zero investment and zero savings, Help Handicap developed to the point where last year it received almost $100,000 in donations, according to Yousuf.
Administrative fees are minimal for the organization, which maintains a website but works based on volunteer unpaid work by Yousuf and other prominent managers and board members.
According to its federally filed 990 tax forms, the organization collected total revenue in 2005 of $33,741. In 2004, the same number was reported as $34,008.
HelpHandicap provides hearing aids, wheelchairs, and other basic equipment to make life much more livable for disabled people in India. It also provides assistance to people, buying equipment for them to build businesses so as to create employment opportunities for them. It also provides education assistance to youger people.
HelpHandicap recently passed an important milestone in August of 2007, according to its website, when it approved assistance to the one thousandth applicant since it formed in 2001. The rewards of Help Handicap have already started to accrue, as people in need have begun to graduate from educational programs, and have built successful businesses, and have had their lives transformed by access to relatively cheap but life-changing technology. One woman afflicted by polio recently contacted HelpHandicap after it helped cure her from breast cancer, and helped her build a home-based sewing business.
HelpHandicap provides services over a wide swath of India, through its 6 partner centers in Bombay, Pune, Aligarh, Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Sikandrabad.
Among the future plans it hopes to implement are a newborn hearing screening test; it also has many other exciting programs in progress, including the first-ever Indian building built according to American Disability Association (ADA) building codes, a school in Aligarh for people with disabilities.
If you are interested in helping Help Handicap, you can visit their website at www.helphandicap.org, or by mail at PO Box 526, Farmington Hills, MI 48332.