Today, as part of our team quarterly, we visited a very special place - "The National Association for Blind" put up on the old airport road. A school for blind it is, which accommodates around 80-90 blind people of different age groups - from 5yr old to 70 yr old. It was the most special day I had ever had in my entire life for two reasons. One, because, it was totally a different world out there and 2nd - there was a lot to learn!
Initially I was under the assumption that this visit was more or less going to be the same as that of visiting an orphanage or teaching at govt schools. But I was totally wrong. This time, there was a lot to take than give. It is an amazing feeling which you will enjoy only if you experienced it.
To start with, the head of the school briefed us about the various trainings they conduct for the blind. They were divided into 4 major categories -
Category 1: For all the new-comers to the school
This is a 45 day course meant to teach the blind to be independent, in terms of how to commute, where to find what and things like that. The instructor for this class was very proud and confident for making his pupil capable of managing themselves on their own. Being a Math grad, he preferred teaching the blind instead of teaching math to normal people. He seemed very happy and satisfied with the profession he had chosen even if it meant way too lesser salary than what he'd have got, had he chosen the "typical” career ladder. I wasn't surprised because while I was there, I too felt the same... Nothing would leave you as satisfied as helping someone who had no clue how the world around him looked like!
Category 2: For aged people from rural areas
This was aimed at blinds from rural areas for enabling them to be self employed. The pupil are initially trained in - sewing, carpets/mats making, bamboo/plastic knitting (that you often see as chair rests) etc. The idea is to train them in making these and refer them to government agencies(we were told that the govt has a regulation that such jobs be given to the blind). The school also helps them in setting up private businesses at their hometowns for making them self employed and earn a living.
Category 3: A class for guys for machinery work
All the mechanical stuff like welding, fitting, working with lathe machines etc.( I remembered my 2nd sem engineering! Ufff, what hell was that! Esp. in my final exam when I was asked to do some welding stuff and I ended up with a big lump of molten metal on a metal sheet due to poor visibility through the eye-shield :( I was asked to re-do the whole exercise :'( )The blinds were geniuses I must say... It was an amazing accuracy with which they got the metal cutting done and with such a shiny polished finishing! I was dumbstruck. It sounded like "mission impossible" (whatever version you may want to give it)!!
Category 4: Computer literacy
The school was equipped with a computer lab, and they used the "JAWS" software (an audio-visual software which reads out all that appears on the screen) for the blind. They all showed us how they checked their gmails and my God, how quick they were! Simply amazing!
Apart from these, as a regular course, the students are also taught to write and read using Brailles. The tutor for Brailles is a v old chap, Mr Hari Prasad(who is also blind) with an experience of 27 yrs teaching the other blind the usage of Brailles. Hats off to his hard work and commitment. I'm so wrong to have been sympathetic and self-pitying myself for having to commute the farthest to office. But this chap commutes from Rajajingar to the old airport road daily in BMTC (needs to change 2 buses to get to the school from his home). A big bow to him! While his kind words to his pupil and individual attention to each of them talks about his dedication, his effort for saving my mobile number in his' (its a series of steps again with some sort of audio visual software, took about 10 min to save 1 number)talks about his patience and tolerance.
This introduction of the various activities for the blind was followed by a cake cutting ceremony for both the blinds and the Intel employees who had their birthdays in the month of December. And I was lucky :) One of the best celebrations of my birthday, which came in as a surprise! :) We played a lot of games together - a cricket game using dice, pass the ball, a kind of musical chair (They called it Raja, Rani, Kalla, Police). This was followed by lunch and some of the Intelites took pleasure of serving the blind.
Post lunch was the cultural activities session. Being a movie maniac, the first thing I thought about what I enjoyed and they did not was – watching movies! I was mistaken again. They had a fairly good knowledge in movies as well. :)(I had a sense of relief else I’d have felt bad that they knew nothing about movies :( )They all put up a grand show and exhibited their talents in singing, mimicry, narrating jokes etc... They were fantastic. By then I had familiarized with some of the gals and they spoke so dear and affectionately that I too started to call a gal by Vijaylakshmi as Viju ;) ;D She was very fond of singing songs on a mic. And when she did (2 songs - folklore), I could see the joy radiating on her face! :)
Later on, our director, Mr. Bhartendu Sinha, distributed momentos (sweaters and FM radio) followed by a prize distribution ceremony for those talents. Followed by that was a chat making activity - we had bhel puri, pani puris for the menu. Finally closed the day with tea and back to office. A day couldn't have gotten any better than this! What a lovely day it was!
Some of the take aways from this experience:
1. The blind are the stronger lots who have learnt to live their fate without any regrets. Believe me, they don't like to be pitied. They are as much independent and normal as we are.
2. I've always doubted the presence of God, but now I feel His presence in them. When I initially met them, I felt a pang of pity, later on, I could barely distinguish them from the rest of us. They mingled with so much ease like one amongst us. It could be a result of a lot of hard work from their side, but that doesn't just seem enough unless they are specially blessed to face such hardships. We were told never to express our sympathy to them (at least in front of them.) Emotional strength is what drives them most times. They like to be one amongst us.
3. the most basic thing I got to learn – “Life can be worse, it’s up to you how to make it better!”
4. They are definitely quicker, smarter and better than any of us....
Anything you want to do to help them?
Yes, you can, without spending even a single penny, and in many ways. All they care for is a little time and affection.
1. Learn the language of Brailles - this may help you help someone be a literate.
2. Just try spending some time with them. Celebrate some of your special occasions with them. Believe me, it really makes their day, but more, yours.
3. Take your kids for a visit to such places. If not anything, they'll learn to be compassionate.
4. Lend them your old dresses (they make the yarn out of it or use it for carpets or if in good condition they will be happy to wear them)
5. Read out books for them and record it. I’m sure all of you own a cell phone that has a recording facility. Many softwares are available too for this purpose. It could be story books/novels (The brailles version is very limited)
"There is no lovelier way to thank God for your sight than by giving a helping hand to someone in the dark...." - Helen Keller
I really thank Intel for giving its employees this wonderful opportunity for providing a great deal of avenues for such social cause. Love you more now, Intel. I really want to retire here! :)