Leprosy couldn’t douse the dreams of 75-year-old Rev. Daniel Tornaji Gawai, from Daryapur, in Amravati district of Maharashtra.
Gawai was affected by leprosy in 1958 when he was 16 years old and got treated at TLM Kothara Hospital. In 1964, TLM encouraged Gawai, who was interested in teaching, to do a basic teachers training course. After completing the course, at the age of 23, he married a girl whose father was affected by leprosy. He was employed as a teacher in the school in TLM Kothara premises.
Till then, the school admitted students only up to 7th standard. All the students were either affected by leprosy or their parents were affected by leprosy. In those days, students who had a background of leprosy were not admitted to other schools. This meant, there were no opportunities for these students to continue education after 7th standard. Gawai didn’t want any children, because of the stigma of leprosy, to be denied higher education. He put all his efforts, and in 1983, the school was upgraded to a Government of Maharashtra-approved high school. In 1986, with the help of the local community, he built a modern building for the school.
While working as a teacher, at the age of 40, he completed his bachelor’s degree, as a private student. And then he went on to do his Masters. He then did his Bachelor in Education (B. Ed) degree and was promoted to the post of Headmaster.
Now retired, Gawai is associated with TLMTI’s Inclusive Holistic Development of Individuals with Disabilities (IHDID) project. Being a farmer himself, he attended organic farming training given by the project and does organic farming. He is a member of the co-operative society of the farmers, facilitated by the project. Also, he is the vice president of an organisation of persons with disability.
He took the initiative to start a church in Kothara – Kothara Baptist Church – which has 400-500 believers coming together for worship. Gawai is the president of the church.
Gawai never had to tell his students the secret of success. His students have seen it in him – determination with discipline and focus!