In this blog post, I am going o talk about an extraordinary person named Caroline Casey.
When she was a just a kid, she wanted to become Mowgli and ride an elephant thru the dense jungle in India. As she grew up, in her teens, it was her dream to become a motorcycle racer. She imagined herself with her helmet on , riding a shining black motorcycle , her hair streaming on her face.
On her seventeenth birthday, she accompanied her younger sister to the ophthalmologist to get her sister's eye tested because she had an eye problem and she wanted to become a pilot. As usual , the doctor checked Caroline's eyes too. Caroline believed that all these years , the doctor just did a fake eye test. The doctor noticed that it was her birthday and asked her "What are you doing today to celebrate the day , Caroline ? " . She replied excitedly "I am going to take my first driving lesson today - you see , I want to become a motorbike and car racer !".
It was then that the doctor looked at her parents and said "You have not told her yet ?" . As her mother sobbed silently, Caroline heard the devastating truth.
She was "legally blind". She had ocular albinism, a genetic condition which happens once in 7000 births. In her own words, she could see just till where her hands extended to and beyond that it was "black vaseline" ! She could never drive !
So, how did she grow up till 17 and not know that she was blind ?
It was due to her incredible parents ! They wanted her to have a childhood as free from labeling and prejudices as possible. So they invented an elaborate game. Her sister, who’s three-and-a-half years younger than her, was born with vision impairment even worse than hers. Throughout her childhood visits to the eye doctor were designed to be a game to her to accompany her sister, not knowing that the play-acting where she got her eyes checked was real treatment.
Caroline grew up believing that she was normal. She played, learnt, had her crushes, did everything with the belief that she was just like any other kid ! The belief and the faith that her father and mother had instilled in her made her do everything . She went to a business school, he was trained as an archaeologist and started working with one of the best consultancy firms.
She decided that her "disability" will not hinder her doing anything - just like how she went abut her life till 17. But it was not easy. She says "The physical limitations of low vision are that I can't drive or cycle. I walk into doors. I start talking to strangers. I go to the gent’s toilet. I can't see the clothes I am putting on. I can't see the cutlery or my plate while sitting down to eat. When I am reading, I have to hold the book up to my nose. I can't read the signs at an airport. Sometimes I come across as rude because I am trying so hard to focus with my eyes that I end up ignoring people. The biggest challenge for me is exhaustion. I am always trying to see. The worst thing low vision has given me is extreme chronic back pain". She is wobbly and falls very often and due to that she had a damaged back.
But that did not stop her from dreaming.
Since she could not take up biking, she did the next best things. She had been trained in archaeology and loved travelling, she went on traveling the world and went to Asia, Mexico, Australia and America. She could not do scuba diving but she did snorkeling ! She did varied things like being landscape gardener and masseuse. Finally she joined Accenture and was doing a great job, till in 2000, to her dismay, she could feel that her vision was getting weaker and weaker and she had no other option to tell the HR about her condition and seek help.
She was sent to a doctor who told her that she will stay like this and will not get better , ever. That was the first time that Caroline broke down. She took time to process the bad news. It was catastrophic.
After a few days, Caroline mulled over the point which the doctor had said . "What did you want to do when you were child ? Nothing has been able to stop you till now and in future too nothing can stop you to achieve anything. You just have to believe in yourself. If YOU think you can , you will !"
That day she went back to her dream which she had dreamt as a child - to become Mowgli ! She says "I made a decision that day that I would go to India, become a mahout and travel across the country on elephant back.”. According to her, making the decision was the hardest part. Once you believe in something, the universe comes together to make it true . The Law of attraction !
Caroline came to India in January 2001. Then she met her "Kanchi" - her elephant, in Calicut . It was not a film. She had created her reality !
"As I walked up to her, we were both silent and looking at each other. I started crying because this was everything I had ever dreamed of. I touched my forehead to her trunk. I smelled bananas and muck and poo. The heat of her skin seeped into mine and I gave her my heart immediately "
Caroline trained and became a Mahaout !
"My mahout trainer was on the ground giving signals and speaking in Malayalam, not a world of which I could understand. I couldn't see his signals. Another problem was that I was a western woman riding bareback on an elephant, who is an embodiment of Ganesha. A lot of people had problems with that. Navigating situations like this was tricky. Trying to convince my trainers that I was capable, to break the stereotype of this weak-disabled person was the hardest thing I had to deal with".
She traveled from Kerela through Karnataka and Tamilnadu. The blind girl on the elephant. In that trip she raised money for 6000 cataract operations. When she returned to Ireland, she chucked her job in Accenture and became a social entrepreneur and set up Kanchi .
"I set up Kanchi
Caroline Casey is an example to the world.
Hats off to her parents and her who seeded the grains of hope in her with their bewildering game of making her believe that she was normal and the doctor , who revived and rekindled the hope in her again when she was overwhelmed and distressed.
Let us all live life to the fullest and believe that we can achieve just anything - provided we have faith in ourselves and the determination to overcome all the odds !
I salute Caroline Casey !