Dhanya's spirited journey from the pain of broken bones to national award glory

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There is no greater disability in the society than the inability to see a person's real abilities. Born with just 15 per cent physical mobility, Dhanya Ravi, a 28-year-old Keralite woman has proved that her determination is way stronger than her brittle bones. The victim of a rare genetic disorder called Osteogenesis Imperfecta (brittle bone disease) this Palakkad-based motivational speaker has had more fractures in her life than the number of her bones. But despite her fragile body, she has bagged the Central government's prestigious award for empowerment of persons with disability in ‘role models’ category on December 3, International Day of Disabled Persons.

Family and childhood

Dhanya’s family welcomed her to the world with trumpets and crackers as she was the first girl child born in two generations to their family. They served a grand feast to the entire villagers and relatives on the day of her naming ceremony and decorated her crib with the softest silk and satin. But little did they know that their happiness wasn't meant to last long. Little Dhanya cried restlessly whenever her family members cuddled her.

She would release sudden screams while her cousins held her in their arms. After several hospital visits, it was on the 56th day of her birth that a physician confirmed her with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, a genetic condition that makes a person’s bones as fragile as egg-shells. She was also born with an 85 per cent physical immobility. Her father K Ravi, then a govt employee, and mother Nirmala Devi took time to accept the fact that their daughter was a special child.

"I have heard that they were counseled by a team of doctors from Government Medical College Vellore, after which they finally coped up with the reality," says Dhanya. Ever since, Dhanya’s world has been confined to the four walls of her apartment in Bangalore. Her elder brother Rajesh Ravi is a management personnel.

None of the mainstream schools admitted Dhanya because of her body condition. She had frequent fractures, displaced joints and sprains until she turned 10. Dhanya recalls her childhood only with pain and despair.

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"I have often seen my parents cry watching my helpless condition. Fractures were daily affair for me. I have survived more than 350 fractures so far. As I grew up, I learned how to keep my pain away from parents," Dhanya said.

By the time she turned eight, one of her childhood friends started donating her old textbooks to Dhanya. Victoria, a kind woman in her neighbourhood volunteered to help Dhanya learn those textbooks. It was Victoria who introduced her to the wide world of literature and fiction.

"Victoria aunty taught me free of cost for almost ten years. By the time, I had been accustomed to using computers, browsing internet and reading novels and essays. I remember how inquisitively I browsed internet on my brother’s desktop after he went to school. Internet was my only window towards the world outside. I met new people and beame a part of several self help groups through Orkut, Facebook and other socialising platforms," she says.

The eye-opener

Dhanya was barely 18 when she saw a newspaper cutting about a young boy called Noel, who suffered from the same medical condition as of hers. The news feature sought financial aid to fund his treatment. Dhanya, who volunteered online for the charity group of a popular media house, decided to extend a hand of support for Noel’s family. She raised some money with the help of the charity group and got in touch with the contact person mentioned in the feature.

Latha Nair, who worked for the fund-raising and treatment of children with brittle bone disease, soon became her good friend. Latha, later, started a charitable society for the welfare and up-liftment of Osteogenesis imperfecta patients at Thiruvananthapuram, which paved a platform for Dhanya and many others like her to showcase their talent in front of the mainstream society.

"I was one among the 25 forming members of Latha aunty's non-profit organisation called 'Amrithavarshini.' It was during one of the initial meetings of Amrithavarshini that I addressed a crowd for the first time. I was fascinated by the satisfaction I got when I shared my experiences with others and motivated them to do more. I started delivering talks very frequently. Slowly, I was introduced to other platforms where I addressed participants from mainstream society and those with other genetic conditions," Dhanya remembers.

Meanwhile, Dhanya earned a certificate in Bachelor's Preparatory Programme offered by the Indira Gandhi National Open University and completed a certificate course in content writing from The Climber, an online educational platform. At present, she works as content writer in popular health and news magazines.

Vision and mission

For Dhanya, every day is a blessing in her life. "From the time I was confined to my bedroom in our Bangalore apartment, I could come out, mingle with the society and inspire them by sharing my life and experiences. I feel blessed to lead this life," she says. Dhanya is grateful to her parents who trusted her moves and offered whole-hearted support to her. She believes that there is a purpose for all her struggles.

"I look forward to spread awareness about genetic diseases, their early diagnosis and prevention across hospitals and prenatal health centers. Not every child is born special. I think there is a purpose why God created me in this divine form," she says.

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Dhanya works independently for the uplift, education and welfare of children born with genetic disorders. She also collaborates with certain non-governmental organisations, self-help groups and charity forums.

Dhanya envisages a world where those with genetic disorders are treated as normal people and included in all walks of life. "I work as a content writer. I am thankful to the corporate firms who accept me as I am. I wish all the workplaces are inclusive of special citizens and non- prejudicial about their mental and physical abilities in performing the tasks they are confident about," she says. Dhanya also urges the family of special kids to entrust them with responsibilities and better opportunities keeping apart all the biases, concerns and distrusts.

Achievements

Dhanya started getting recognised for her selfless initiatives way back in 2012. She was first awarded with The Brave Bangle, an award for extra ordinary women extended by a media initiative called Film Brew in Kochi. In 2014, she won the Inspired Indian Foundation Award for her initiatives for a social cause at Rajbhavan, Bengaluru.

She also became a TEDx speaker in 2017 summit where she delivered a talk on 'The joy of pain.' She has also won several literary competitions including versification contests and essay writing fairs. Finally, her initiatives to inspire and motivate the society with her own life and experiences has been recognised with the prestigious National Award for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities from the Central Social Welfare Board.

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