“Having a true friend is ordinary; Being a true friend is eXtraOrdinary” – Naveen Lakkur
Story of Manjula Battaluri
Everyone wishes to have true friends in life and spend a lot of time with them. So was in the case of Manjula Battaluri when she was studying at VS Dental College in Bangalore. She became Dr. Manjula Battaluri along with many of her friends. She started her professional career by teaching dental subjects and she found new friends in the institution, their management recognized her integrity and friendly nature, she was soon promoted to the management ranks. Later she chose to study further, completed Advanced DMD from Boston University, USA. She continued making many new friends even on new shores not just in college but also with her clients while practicing dentistry in the greater Boston area for over 20 years.
During her practice Dr.Manjula Battaluri learnt about Childhood Blindness as a public health concern which was a priority for “Vision 2020-the Right to Sight” – a global initiative. She also learnt that in India alone, there were 320,000 children less than 16 years old accounting to 1/5th of total blindness among children worldwide. Dr.Manjula Battaluri understood that Visually impaired children have poor oral hygiene and greater prevalence of dental caries that lead to poor outcomes. Most schools for blind children do not have access to dental care in India. Oral hygiene is often ignored until it is a problem.
She shared this with her daughter who is her young friend. Her daughter piloted this as a project, as part of her Girl Scout’s. This project won the Gold medal at the state level in Massachusetts. This project also made it to USA finals & won the Patrick Henley Medallion. As she watched this project develop, she came across a quote “The best and the most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart” as said by Helen Keller which inspired Dr.Manjula Battaluri, she wanted to be a little extra and get more involved in the project.
While practicing dental care in Boston Dr.Manjula Battaluri wanted to be a Little Extra and do something to help this community, she put a foot in Bengaluru with a twin mission to raise awareness, train and improve Oral Health for blind children in India. And to motivate caregivers, educate them on the importance of Oral Health. She partnered with dentists from India and a Blind School. For this project, the dentists used audio-tactile techniques to teach the children “muscle memory” for brushing their teeth. Use of models, brushes, and individual coaching sessions of hand-over-hand techniques made a difference in their oral hygiene. Regular visits by MS Ramaiah Dental College students made a big difference, the dentists became friends of the blind children. The Dental College went on to be a little extra, they provided a mobile dental care bus helping treat children and bring awareness to the parents about oral hygiene and care. This project was designed for sustainability as the dentists agreed to make follow-up visits bi-annually. They will continue to work with the children and the teachers to make sure these children maintain good oral health.
Belaku Academy was one of the organizations they engaged under Oral Care for Visually Impaired Project. That’s when Dr.Manjula Battaluri first met Ashwini, the founder of Belaku Academy. Ashwini’s first interaction with Dr.Manjula Battaluri was, “it’s nice that you are offering free oral care but what we really need is how we can be a part of the society and not be excluded.
In Most of the western countries blind kids are trained along with other kids and not just put in a blind school. To make that happen in India I want to get trained in Perkins School of Blind, as you are from Boston can you get me there and get trained in Perkins School?
My dream is to make my academy all inclusive instead of only for the visually impaired…”
Dr.Manjula didn’t pay much attention as she was heading back in a few hours to Boston, it was already 10 pm, plus it was her birthday too so her mindset was different.
On her way out, Ashwini’s helper handed out a pamphlet and said “please read madam on your journey”. On her flight from Bangalore to Boston, she thought she would just give a glance and was aww stuck to read about Ashwini. Her heart felt for the new friend. As soon as she reached Boston, she called up Dr Pradeep who is a pillar of support to Ashwini and got all the details about her and the academy.
In 2019 Dr.Manjula invited Ashwini to come and stay with her in Boston. Ashwini’s 2 weeks stay was an eye opener for Dr.Manjula. She was amazed at her perseverance and determination. Dr.Manjula observed her new friend always being occupied, even if she gets half an hour, she would listen to a motivational speaker or strategize on ways to make a difference for special-need kids.
Dr.Manjula Battaluri got to know about her new friend Ashwini’s wish list. Dr.Manjula wanted to be a Little Extra, took help of her friends, clients and well wishers to fulfil all of them, which were:
1. Training in Perkins School of Blind where Helen Keller studied
2. Connecting with Dr. David Hartman – first blind person to graduate Med school and the author of the book ‘White Coat, White Cane’. He was so inspired by Ashwini’s story, now he wants to visit her Academy in India and encourage her in her mission.
3. Visit to UN and UNICEF Headquarters
4. Meet head of Scouts USA to discuss possible collaboration
5. Meet Indian community to raise awareness about Belaku Academy – Ashwini wanted to participate in the community games too. Ashwini became part of Dr.Manjula’s family.
Ashwini was all set to leave Boston, And Dr.Manjula loved her statement when she said, “I see you as a true friend…I don’t want any sympathy, instead join hands to help us be part of the society, don’t treat us differently.”
Dr.Manjula Battaluri was touched, moved and chose to be a Little Extra and be part of her new friend’s dream in making Belaku Academy an all inclusive place wherein every child has a right to live a life of dignity!!