1880 - 1968
Just over a century ago there lived a little girl in the United States called Helen Keller. When she was very young she was taken ill with a fever, and she lost her sight and hearing. She recovered from this illness, and grew into a strong, healthy child, but she could not see or hear, and she did not know how to speak.
Her family loved her dearly, and the servants were very kind to her, but as little Helen grew older she became more and more frustrated at her inability to communicate. She often threw temper tantrums, and bit and kicked anyone who annoyed her; by the time she was six years old she had become so difficult that her parents decided to seek help.
There was an Institute for the Blind in Boston, and it was arranged for a young woman to come from there to be Helen’s teacher. The young woman’s name was Ann Sullivan; she herself had been blind, but she had recovered her sight, and was very eager to help this child who was blind, deaf and dumb.
Helen was standing waiting in the porch when she arrived. She flung herself into Ann Sullivan’s arms, and took the greatest interest in her.
Ann Sullivan had expected a “pale, delicate child”, but Helen was quite the reverse. All her preformed plans of how she would educate her had to be abandoned, and she decided that, first of all, she had to win her love. From that time forth Ann Sullivan took care of Helen, and gave her her undivided attention. Gradually the little girl grew calmer, and Ann Sullivan began to try to pierce through the darkness of non-understanding that surrounded her.
All day long she wrote the names of objects and people in Helen’s hand; she knew that if she could once make her understand that everything has a name, she would be able to teach her to write, read, and communicate like other people. Helen obediently learnt the names of many things, but she still did not grasp their significance.
One day she had been having particular trouble with the words “mug” and “water”. She could not tell the difference between them and, losing patience, she threw a new china doll on the floor. It broke, and Ann Sullivan gave up the attempt for the time being, and took Helen outside. Someone was drawing water from the pump, and Ann Sullivan held Helen’s hand under the cool water and spelled its name into her other hand.
“I stood still,” (said Helen Keller some years later),
“ my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a
misty consciousness as of something forgotten – a thrill of
returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that “w-a-t-e-r” meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free!”
The great step had been taken and they returned joyously to the house. Soon Helen was learning many words a day, and the more she learnt, the happier she grew. With the help of Ann Sullivan she learnt to read and write and even to speak. People around the world marvelled at the child who had overcome such insurmountable difficulties, and Helen Keller became famous as an example of what the human spirit can achieve if nurtured with love and patience.
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