At 51, with a piece of chalk or pencil hanging from her arm, she now tutors young children in the remote village of Karhe, east of Bombay, where educational opportunities are minimal.

“I have always loved children and if I had been sitting there doing nothing, I would now be in another world, thinking about what happened to me,” she told AFP.

In 2019, Ms. Hilim contracted a severe form of dengue fever, aggravated by gangrene which required the amputation of her right hand. A few weeks later, the surgeons are forced to amputate his left hand. Then both legs below the knees.

“When they amputated my first hand, I was in despair that I wouldn’t be able to do anything in the future. I fell into depression. I didn’t speak to anyone for eight days,” says- she.

But, encouraged by her family during her recovery, Ms. Hilim finds meaning in her life by returning to teaching.

– Home tutoring –

For three decades, she had worked at a local elementary school. In 2020, when all the schools are closing due to the Covid-19 pandemic, she begins to give home lessons to students whose parents are not rich enough to offer their children distance education.

The schools reopened a few months ago, but 40 children from the village continue to attend her classes.

“My children like to study,” says Eknath Laxman Harvate, a farmer whose daughter regularly attends Ms. Hilim’s classes.

Like many children, Mr Harvate had to leave school as a teenager and go to work because his family did not have enough money to pay for his education. He says he wants a better future for his own children.

“We will educate her all the time she wants,” he says of his city. “I would have liked so much to continue studying. I am sad that I had to stop and go to the fields because of problems at home”.

Like most of her students, Pratibha Hilim is an Adivasi, a generic term for members of indigenous tribes in India.

The Adivasis are victims of deep discrimination, and the fact that they generally live in isolated regions leaves them on the sidelines of the Indian economic boom.

In Karhe, many families are forced to withdraw their children from school to make them work.

“Once they know how to read and write, it’s considered enough, and the children are ready to go to the fields,” regrets Ms. Hilim.

The teacher strives to push the children to keep learning, so that they can one day choose their own destiny.

Currently awaiting prostheses, she says her own struggle to continue practicing her profession demonstrates the power of determination.

“I thought that without my limbs I was nothing, but then I made a firm decision,” says Ms Hilim. “I decided I could do anything, and I’m going to do anything.”