Harshal is a 17-year-old orphan who came to live at Snehalaya when she was five years old. She is an incredibly talented artist and dancer who loves performing on stage at our annual events and festival celebrations.
In January 2020, she started complaining of pain in her leg. Initially, her condition was misdiagnosed and the pain continued until a second biopsy revealed and confirmed our worst fears. She had cancer in the bone of her leg and the best option was to amputate to prevent the spread to other parts of her body. We had to share this news with Harshal just as Coronavirus was beginning to take hold in India and before her 10 Std exams. She bravely accepted that her leg would have to be removed and said: "I would rather live without a leg than die."
Soon she was unable to walk, relying on a wheelchair to get around. Fearing COVID 19, we also decided to isolate her in our on-site hospital to prevent infections. With the country going into total lockdown and limited medical expertise in our city to treat Harshal, we started looking to Mumbai and Pune for help. When we found a doctor in Mumbai, travel restrictions meant we could not reach the hospital.
Time was passing and the threat of the cancer spreading was becoming very real. At last, we found a doctor who recommended she undertake chemotherapy. Harshal endured this, losing her hair in the process, but also the pain subsided. Unfortunately, the cancer was stubborn and the pain returned. Another doctor recommended another round of chemo which again Harshal took in her stride. Again this didn't work.
Despite the pain and trauma she was going through during her exam period, she was the top-scoring girl in our Snehalaya English Medium School, achieving 72% in her 2020 10 Std exams.
Finally, in October 2020, Harshal's leg was amputated. Since then, she has been doing everything she can to live 'everyday life, spending time with her friends, taking part in Zumba dance classes, and building on her passion for art by learning Mandala drawing. We are genuinely grateful to Rutuja Lokhande, an architect at AKA associates, Mumbai, and freelance artist, for inspiring and guiding Harshal with this. Visiting Radio Nagar for an interview, she had shown a keen interest in working with Snehalaya. With experience teaching children art and crafts through other NGOs and institutions in Mumbai and Bangalore, we showed Harshal's artwork to her. Seeing the potential, she immediately offered to teach her via regular online classes, giving both immense satisfaction and a lot of joy. It was such a hit that the course has now expanded to include Harhsla's friends and other boys and girls interested in developing their skills.
In Rutuja's words, "I believe when you work with such organizations, your perspective to look at life changes for good. I have been working with the Snehalaya team to teach Harshal mandala art since November 2020 and it has been a unique experience in itself. Harshal is a bright student and I saw her artistic talent grow over only a few months. She has a perfect balance of passion, dedication, and patience to do this.
"After I started teaching her, I was surprised to see how everyone at Snehalaya helped her and me to spend time together on this learning journey. This includes Nick, whom I have always seen encouraging her, pushing her to do good. From stationary to video classes, everything was set for her. I was amazed to see that such detailed attention can be paid to a single kid in any NGO. I feel grateful to be part of Harshal's inspiring journey where I could help her a little to find the right path for a career."
We are so incredibly proud of Harshal's fighting spirit and determination; she has been smiling through the pain since her initial diagnosis and was extremely patient over the eight months it took from diagnosis to finally get the treatment she so desperately needed. She has recently been measured for the prosthetic leg and at the time of reading this, she will be taking her first steps forward with her new leg!
Heena's passion for dance continues and she has astounded everyone with both her inner and outer strength as she continues to perform in her unique style. Heena is a true testament to the human spirit, and in her own words, ' No matter what the obstacles…never give up your dreams.
She is an inspiration to our other girls and with Rutuja, Nick, her friends, and Snehalaya family with her, she will surely prove to be an idol for many more like her.