From a stump to a hand…

The seven-year-old strikingly beautiful girl with sparkling eyes, Afsha Tabassum, from Kishtwar, about 212 km from Jammu, was jumping with joy after getting a brand-new hand, which was a replacement for the hand she had lost in a burn accident when she was only a year old. She was so happy when she was shown a video of people driving two wheelers with LN-4 Hands, the replica of the new hand she had got, that she said with determination: “One day I will drive a car with this new hand”.

Little Afsha Tabassum admiring her ‘new hand’.
Little Afsha Tabassum admiring her ‘new hand’.

The youngest recipient of this prosthetic hand, six-year-old Raza Azmat Khan from Budgam, Kashmir, who had a birth defect and was born with the entire palm missing on his right arm, was wonderstruck and kept looking at the new hand he had just got.

It wasn’t exactly a mela, but the atmosphere was carnival-like at the camp organised by the Rotary Clubs of Jammu Aastha and Jammu Midtown, RI District 3070, in partnership with RC Poona Downtown, District 3131, for a project to fit upper limbs for those who were living for years with only stumps for hands.

There was no lack of human-interest stories and there were both tears and smiles at the camp held to implement the meticulously organised project of these clubs titled ‘New Hands for Handless’. “We had recipients of this gift ranging from the age of 6 to 90. The seven-year-old boy Ashid Hussain from Mendhar, Poonch, who had lost his hand in a landmine blast a few months back was overjoyed to receive a hand with which he could play and do all his daily chores. At the same time, we also had a senior citizen, 90-year-old Parma Nand, a farmer from Kore Punnu, Kathua, Jammu, who was getting the gift of a new hand which he had lost some 34 years ago while working on his farm,” says Sumil Goyal, Project Director, LN-4 Hands Camp, Jammu.

Seven-year-old Afsha Tabassum from Jammu, a beneficiary, when shown a picture of someone fitted with an LN-4 Hand driving a two-wheeler said with determination: ‘One day I will drive a car with this new hand’.

He recalls the “emotionally charged atmosphere” at the camp where people were very happy but also had tears in their eyes. One of the girls, Arti, could not stop crying after getting the LN-4 Hand because she had come to the camp without informing her parents about the camp. Kirn Bharti cried with joy because she could now operate her laptop using both her hands, including the brand new left one she had acquired at the camp.

“We were all moved by these emotions which left a lasting impact on all the volunteers and Rotarians who enjoyed giving their time and service to fulfill Rotary’s motto: Service Above Self,” he added.


The genesis

The camp, attended by 123 people, including 29 from Haryana, Punjab, and far away States such as Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, had its roots in one of the 250 emails sent out to all Rotary clubs from RC Poona Downtown on Feb 4, 2018, catching the attention of Goyal from RC Jammu Aastha, who was then the Assistant Governor of D 3070. The mail was an introduction, he says, to the LN-4 Prosthetic Hand (see Box). Curious, he watched several YouTube videos on this prosthetic limb, and impressed by the good it could do, discussed at his club meeting the possibility of doing such a project.

Rotarians celebrate Raksha Bandhan at the LN-4 Hand camp site.
Rotarians celebrate Raksha Bandhan at the LN-4 Hand camp site.

“But the main concern of our club members was that it would not be worthwhile to undertake a project of around ₹3 lakh that would benefit only a few people. But they were assured that if they worked hard and with passion, the project could be scaled up to benefit about 150 people at the same cost,” he recalls.


The donors

This was possible because even though each prosthesis costs around ₹30,000 in India, the LN-4 Hands were sourced free of cost from the Ellen Meadows Prosthetic Hands Foundation in the US. This prosthetic hand has been designed and donated by the American couple Ernie and Marj Meadows. Says Anil Chadda, Chairman LN-4 Project Committee, RC Poona Downtown: “Ernie Meadows is an industrial designer with long years of experience and work in developing a functional, inexpensive, below-elbow prosthetic hand which we now know as the LN-4. Originally designed for young victims of land mines, it has benefitted hundreds of people, children and adults, beyond the original intent.” The LN-4 Hand Committee headed by him has organised 34 such camps across India to give hands to over 3,300 handless.

Originally designed by Ernie Meadows, an American, for young victims of land mines, the LN-4 Hand has benefitted hundreds of people, children and adults, beyond the original intent.
– Anil Chadda, Chairman, LN-4 Project Committee, RC Poona Downtown

Later, the LN-4 prosthetic was created “to honour the memory of Ellen Meadows, their daughter who died in an automobile accident at the tender age of 18. The name LN is short for Ellen.” Their motto, carried on their website, says: “Our mission is to inspire change in the world by empowering individuals to support the gift of a light, durable, functional prosthetic hand to people in need. Our LN-4 Hands are distributed around the world at no cost to recipients. We will not stop until anyone who needs a prosthetic hand has access to one.”


Idea of a camp is born

Returning to Jammu from the US, once RC Jammu Aastha members were convinced of the impact this project could make, it was decided to hold the camp in Jammu on Aug 26, which happened to be the auspicious occasion of Raksha Bandhan. The date was finalised based on the availability of the Aggarwal Dharamshala in in the city which was free after the Amarnath Yatra and was given to the Rotarians free of cost.

Prem Nath of Jammu rides a scooter with his prosthetic hand.

From April, work began for this project which was “meticulously planned under the experienced guidance of Chadda,” says Goyal. Even though his club set the ball rolling, an invaluable partnership was born when by June-end they had only 43 registrations. Thus RC Jammu Midtown came on board and the constraints in both raising funds and finding beneficiaries were overcome. The camp was inaugurated by Ramesh Arora, Member, Legislative Council, J&K.

With Rotarians from both the clubs working in perfect coordination, whether in finding beneficiaries or volunteering various services at the camp varying from organising food to counselling services to ensuring good media coverage to boost Rotary’s public image, the camp became a runaway success. “This was a rare example of excellent coordination between two host clubs in Jammu,” says Rtn Pradeep Munot, founder of the LN-4 project.

The LN-4 hand has great functionality as it can pinch or clamp any object such as a toothbrush, fork, spoon, pen, mug, etc. The list is endless.
– Sumil Goyal, Project Director, LN-4 Hand Camp, Jammu

Estimated cost

On the estimated cost of each hand, Goyal says, “We can only guess the direct cost of an LN-4 prosthetic hand to be $200–250. This is assuming only direct costs and no markups. The cheapest hands in India cost over ₹30,000 and are only cosmetic in nature. The LN-4 Hand has great functionality as it can pinch or clamp any object such as a toothbrush, fork, spoon, pen, mug, etc. The list is endless.”

On how exactly it works, he says the LN-4 is strapped on to the beneficiary’s stump which is below the elbow. They had 12 special cases with a short stump (2.0–3.5 inch) and for such cases RC Poona Downtown has designed a universal extender on which the LN-4 Hand is fitted. It costs only ₹800. While 12 beneficiaries have been fitted with such an extender, 18 others are awaiting fitment of suitable extenders being developed locally, he added.

Jammu and Kashmir MLC Ramesh Arora (in grey jacket) at the inaugural of the LN-4 Hand camp in Jammu.
Jammu and Kashmir MLC Ramesh Arora (in grey jacket) at the inaugural of the LN-4 Hand camp in Jammu.

While the list of the Rotarians who worked on this camp is too long to be included here, Goyal says thanks to sponsorship for so many things such as hotel stay for the team of Rotarians from Pune, the venue, food, etc, the cost of the project remains pegged at between ₹2.5 lakh to 3 lakh.

Buoyed by the success of this camp, where a mela-like atmosphere prevailed with the volunteers tying rakhis on the wrists of beneficiaries and others, the two clubs have decided to set up soon a permanent project — an LN-4 Hand Fitment Centre in Jammu, announced Nirmal Gupta and Rakhi Singal, presidents of the two host clubs.

So far we have conducted 34 LN-4 camps across various States and have worked in collaboration with 23 Rotary clubs.
– Pradeep Munot, Member, LN-4 Hand Committee

“I felt overwhelmed to be a part of those wonderful moments when the prosthetic hands were being fitted; both the clubs deserve all praise for this initiative. I am sure this will become a permanent project and benefit the disabled persons in District 3070,” remarked Dr U S Ghai, District Secretary, D 3070, who had come from Jalandhar to participate in the first-of-its-kind project in his district.

Added D 3070 DG Barjesh Singhal, “All praise to RC Jammu Aastha and RC Jammu Midtown for organising an out-of-the-box project. What can be better than giving hands to the handless on the auspicious festival of Raksha Bandhan?”

A beneficiary fitted with an artificial hand planting saplings in his field.
A beneficiary fitted with an artificial hand planting saplings in his field.

To identify the beneficiaries, a wide range of awareness activities such as use of social media including Whatsapp and Facebook to send messages, and personal contacts with medical officers and surgeons of district hospitals in Punjab, social welfare department of J&K, as also block development officers, led to a pre-registration count of 184. Few volunteers also travelled on motorcycles to remote villages in border areas and registered people. Lists were obtained from leading orthopaedic surgeons on upper limb amputees. Flex banners were placed at major public places like bus stands, railway stations, temples, gurudwaras, etc. Pamphlets were put in local buses and Government offices. “However, due to landslides in the hilly areas of J&K and other personal reasons, about 50 registered persons could not turn up on the camp day and they will be fitted with LN-4 Hands at the earliest,” says Goyal.

We also had a senior citizen, 90-year-old Parma Nand, a farmer from Kathua, Jammu, who was getting the gift of a new hand which he had lost some 34 years ago while working on his farm.

A team of 12 volunteers from RC Poona Downtown, led by their President Subir Guha, was the icing on the cake of a project that showed exemplary cooperation between clubs in areas as far flung as Jammu and Pune. “They spent some 30 man-days for the project and though they flew in to Jammu, requested reimbursement of only 50 per cent of 2nd AC train fare,” says a grateful Project Director Goyal.

One of the best rewards members of the LN-4 Hand Committee have got is a letter from 12-year-old Jayesh Sawant, who wrote in Marathi: “I used to play cricket so far with one hand. But Rotary gave me an LN-4 prosthetic hand. Now I shall become the greatest cricketer in the world. Half my dream is fulfilled by Rotary, now I shall do the remaining half! Thank you, Rotary club!”

The Wada-Paav Miracle!

Pradeep Munot

Around September 2013, a meeting of Gift of Mobility Committee of our Rotary Club of Poona Downtown was convened by Rtn Shabbir Jamnagarwala. I try to be 100 percenter at Shabbirbhai’s meetings because it is always a wada-paav meeting with a bonus of moong daal ka bhajiya at times.

Shabbir, as usual, was serious. While surfing the Internet he had discovered the prosthetic hand LN-4. He was very much impressed and wanted us to take up the project. My tradition is always being that of opposition. I faithfully opposed. My plea was, we should operate within our limits. We are not geared to take up big projects like this. But Shabbir, as usual, remained firm and determined, and rest of us reluctantly followed.

A beneficiary experimenting to write with his new hand.
A beneficiary experimenting to write with his new hand.

After many meetings, correspondence, phone calls, we finally announced our first LN-4 camp on Jan 11 and 12, 2014. But we were nervous. Though at Shabbir’s insistence, we all had watched the videos from the LN-4 website and YouTube, we were still not confident and worried because it was altogether a new field. At our request two trained persons were sent for our assistance from Bengaluru. The camp turned out to be a huge success. The smiles on 74 faces were such a big reward that we decided to hold a follow-up camp on April 20, 2014.

Next year was a little low with two small camps in March and June, but these paved way to huge success stories never ever dreamt of. I was introduced to Tarun Mishra, a dynamic young Rotarian from Indore. Tarun and the then DGE Sanjeev Gupta were so much impressed with our presentation that they decided to launch it as their district project. It was presented at their PETS and the response was tremendous. We joined hands with RC Indore Uptown, D 3040, and volunteered at the camp in Indore in August 2015 with nine volunteers. Our DG from D 3131 Subodh Joshi too joined our team in Indore. The turnout was 155 hands. We trained the Indore volunteers and they further conducted many more camps independently.

This was followed by Jamnagar. During his personal visit to Jamnagar, Shabbir reached out to Jamnagar Rotarians and the Indore success was replicated. The Jamnagar team too conducted more camps independently and has continued this activity by arranging distribution of hands on one Sunday every month.

From last year our committee chairman Anil Chadda has started sending mass e-mails to presidents and secretaries of Rotary clubs all over India introducing them to this novel project. And we are getting responses pan India.

So far we have conducted 34 LN-4 camps in States of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Jammu and Kashmir, in places like Indore, Dondaicha, Jamnagar, Kopargaon, Latur, Achalpur, Udgir, Kalyan, Vapi, Kuli (Jaipur), Satara, Nandurbar, Panvel, Shirdi, Madurai, Darbhanga, Bhagalpur, Raichur, Allahabad, Nizamabad, Chennai, Solapur, Triambakeshwar and Jammu. Our teammate Vikramjit Mehmi remarks that for the first time in history after Peshwa Bajirao, Pune’s flag is held high at so many places!

We worked in collaboration with 23 Rotary clubs — Indore Uptown, Dondaicha Seniors, Jamnagar, Pune Sarasbaug, Pune Inspira, Latur Horizon, Achalpur, Udgir Central, Kalyan, Vapi, Jaipur, Jaipur Majesty, Panvel Midtown, Madurai Malligai, Darbhanga, Vikramshila Pink, Cotton City Raichur, Allahabad North, Nizamabad, Madras Centenary Commemoration, Solapur, Jammu Aastha, Jammu Midtown — one Innerwheel Club of Satara, Lions Club of Kopargaon and the NGOs Maharashtra Arogya Mandal, Vivekanand Hospital and Bharat Vikas Parishad.

Permanent LN-4 centres are established in Pune, Kalyan, Jaipur, Vapi, Jamnagar, Nizamabad; and Raichur and Latur are on the way too. The cumulative number of hands fitted is 3,310 so far.

Right from the beginning in 2013, we were guided and supported by past president K V Mohankumar of Bengaluru and we are grateful to him. Both he and the Ellen Meadows Foundation were very much happy and appreciative with this huge, unprecedented turnout and especially the ‘ripple’ effect in Indore, Jamnagar and Jaipur. Our club is included in their prestigious ‘List of Partners’.

Last year Shabbir and myself were conferred the ‘Distinguished Service Award’ from the Ellen Meadows Foundation. We are maintaining close contact with associate clubs — Indore Uptown, Jamnagar, Jaipur Majesty and keep sharing innovations.

Team LN-4 is grateful to all the members of RC Pune Downtown for their continued support. I salute my colleagues of Team LN-4 consisting a big number of non-Rotarians too, and express gratitude to our leader Shabbir. It is his vision and determination that has led us through this very satisfying wonderful journey. This project has given us so many friends all over the country. But the immense satisfaction on seeing happiness on the faces of recipients is the real reward.

And, believe me, it all started with a wada-paav!

The writer is a member of the LN-4 Hand Committee of RC Poona Downtown.

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