Disabled as a teenager, vocational instructor Ritesh Vaigankar aims to inspire young people
Ritesh Vaigankar, a vocational instructor from Goa, was 15 years old when he was disabled. For years he struggled to come with terms with what happened. On My Take he shares his journey – from hiding his scars to wearing them openly as a badge of courage and hope.
23 October 2003. The day my life changed for good. I was 15 years old when I got electrocuted by a high-tension power transmission line. That’s all I remember of that day. I came to my senses in hospital with 70% burns and a mind full of questions. ‘What happened?’ ‘Why me?’ Questions still unanswered today.
I spent three years in hospital and underwent over 10 operations, one of which involved amputation of my right leg below the knee. My dad didn’t even tell me as he had no idea how to explain it to me.
The changes that followed were hard to get used to. I needed assistance with almost everything that I was used to doing independently. My left hand was left impaired as well and it took months to learn to walk with a prosthetic leg. I decided to complete my schooling but feared people’s reactions to my scars. What would they think, how would they look, what would they say? I wore long sleeves to hide the scars.
Coping with disability
I didn’t give up and persisted with my dreams. I resumed an active lifestyle despite issues with my prosthesis. After an engineering degree I got offered a job by the German MNC Siemens Ltd. I worked there for six years.
Today I work as a vocational instructor at a technical institute. I enjoy teaching young people, encouraging them to develop their skills and be independent. My aim is to inspire as many people as possible, give them hope. The thing is that I don’t get inspired by normal people. Instead I draw inspiration from other special people like me.
When someone would see me for the first time and ask ‘What happened? I would tell them everything and later feel horrible living through it again. I decided that these were strangers asking about a traumatic part of my life and just walking away, leaving me with all these feelings. I would no longer respond and that tnstead there are so many better questions to respond to like, ‘How do your legs work’?
Living life kingsize
I am blessed when it came to friends, especially my family, the support in school, college and work. I never imagined I would go on trips and not just in Goa. It was during a trip to Rajasthan that I discovered I have wings, that one leg short is not a problem. I play table tennis, go swimming, bike riding etc. I want to do everything independently and learned to ride a bike and bought one. If there’s one wish I have, it is to be able to run again. I want to feel that feeling again. To be frank, I really don’t even remember how it feels to be able to run or jog.
I am so grateful that I am alive and loving life. I just want to be able to tell the world that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, just find the will to get through the darkness. Earlier I used to hide my burned skin under long sleeves and avoid mixing with others but over time I have realised there’s a lot of love in this world. All one must do is accept the love with open arms.
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