Thursday, May 13, 2010

Children Of A Lesser God

No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an unchartered land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit.
-----Helen Keller

This post is not about the Hollywood movie of the same name starring Marlee Matlin , an American actress who debuted in this movie and who is deaf from the age of eighteen months. But this post is all about a window into the world of visually challenged people.

Here in my neighborhood in Faridabad , a lot of people come to ask for charity. Women asking for funds for religious occasions. Blind people and many more. There is a blind man who has been coming regularly to my home for a long time now. He would always be accompanied by an escort. Many times I was curious as to how he went about his daily chores. And finally one day I decided to visit the local Blind school, National Association for Blind in NIT 5.

As I entered the gate I was disappointed to see that the building was very old and dilapidated. Little did i know about the wonderful work that went on inside the old building. The person at the gate asked me the purpose of my visit. I told him I wanted a first hand experience with a blind person. And I wanted to donate some money too. He asked me to go the first floor and meet the lady in the room on the right.

On reaching her room I requested her if I could talk to one of the blind person in the organization.

“Sure” she said. “I’ll call Ruby”

She made a call and a few minutes later a young woman walked in. As I looked at her it was difficult to believe she was blind. She sailed into the room with such ease.

Me: Hi, Ruby I am Abha. Can I talk to you for a while?

Ruby: Sure

Me: At what age did you loose your vision?

Ruby: When I was eight years old

Me: What happened ?

Ruby: Nothing. I wasn’t sick or anything. One day I started seeing less. When my parents took me to the doctor he said, "as she grows she will loose her vision."

Me: How did you complete your schooling? Did you study in a special school?

Ruby: No. I had a writer for exams. I have done my BA from Delhi University and am doing my Bed form IGNOU.

Me: What work do you do here?

Ruby: I am a Hindi stenographer teacher.

Me: How do you do your daily activities like bathing , taking a bus or an auto to work?

Ruby: I have got used to it. It has been so long now. I also take help from people on the road.

In the meantime the peon came with tea. Ruby sipped her tea. Since I am not a tea drinker I declined.Once she had finished drinking her tea. I asked her a few more questions.

Me: So what are the activities that go on at this centre?

Ruby: Teaching classes, computer, writing of Braille books, Home science and Kindergarten.

Me: I would like to visit the computer room. Will you take me there?

Ruby: sure.

We walked out of the room towards the hall . She confidently went to the table and handed over the Braille book she was carrying. Then she walked out of the hall, kept the empty cup on the window sill, and confidently climbed down the stairs . As we approached the building she stopped at the third door and said. “This is the computer room”.

She opened the door and we walked inside. I saw six to seven people sitting in front of the computesr. She walked towards a young man wearing dark glasses and said, “This is Yusuf”. You can talk to him.

I took a chair and seated myself next to him

Me : Hi Yusuf. Can I talk to you for a while?”

Yusuf : Sure

Me : At what age did you loose your vision?

Yusuf: When I was fifteen.

Me: What happened?

Yusuf: I had high fever and lost my vision after that.

Me: So you remember everything from that time… colors , faces, nature…

Yusuf: Yes. I remember everything.

Me : What is your designation here?

Yusuf: I am a computer instructor

Me: And your qualification?

Yusuf: I have done CAPS ( Computer Application and Programming Skills) from National Institute,Dehradun.

Me : So how do you use the computer?

Yusuf: We use a software called JAWS (JOB ACESS WITH SPEECH). As I type something the computer says it aloud.

He asked the spelling of my name and typed in the keyboard
I heard the computer say Abha Midha in a highly accented American voice.

Me : So you are able to do all your daily chores yourself?

Yusuf :Yes. Everything. Bathing, shaving, washing clothes, ironing clothes, washing utensils, playing chess, cards and cricket.

Me : You can really play those games? How?

Yusuf: Our cricket ball comes with special tiny bells inside which clink when thrown. That is how we are able to place the ball.

Similarly the pack of cards is special. It has Braille dots on each card. And the chess board is special too. The white pieces have a raised dots and the board has depressions where the pieces fit and don’t fall down.

I was totally amazed to hear all this.
And he continued,” I am here in this job, but I am on the look out for a better one. Visually challenged people can work in MNCs, and BPOs too. I want to earn Rs 25,000 to live a comfortable life.”

I marveled at his optimism and spirit. As I was leaving, he said, “visit the library . The Librarian will show you all the things kept on sale.”

I walked back to the hall on the first floor. The Librarian showed me a folding stick which was barely 9 inches long but opened to a full length. She also showed me a pack of cards, the unique chess, a slate for mathematical calculations and a pearl Abacus.

On the adjacent table sat a visually challenged woman. Her fingers were on the Brialle book and she had a Brailler in front of her.

“What is she doing” . I asked the librarian.

“She is copying a book from Braille to a new one. We often run short of these books.”

I walked back to the lady in charge and gave her my donation.
“Can you show me the Homescience and other activities?”


Once again we went to the ground floor. She took me to the kitchen. Here one blind girl was washing the utensils and the other was making chapattis under the guidance of a lady. Then she took me to the tailoring and knitting room.
We walked out of the building to the adjacent building. She opened the door. As we walked in, pointing to a cupboard she said, “These are the cricket trophies our members have won over the years”

By now I was speechless seeing those big Trophies displayed with pride in the visitor room.

But the last stop was the most heart wrenching one in the Kindergarten room. She opened the door and I saw young girls and boys sitting on the chairs. There were two teachers present in the room. Two young girls, barley five, were busy reciting poems . My attention went to one young boy who had a slate in his hand and was diligently pricking the paper with pins. Tears welled up in my eyes as I saw the young toddlers who had such a tough future ahead.

As I way about to leave, the lady went to the visitor room and came back with a card. “Here. This is your invitation. On Sunday two couples are getting married. Do come and experience this event”

I thanked her and walked out of the premises. In my forty six years, it was the first time I had an experience with a blind person’s world.

I knew what was required next. I would not waste any time and go to the Eye Bank in Faridabad and donate my eyes.

Some facts:

• Over 40 million people in the world are blind, and over 120 million people have significant Low Vision conditions that cannot be corrected, cured or treated by conventional refraction, medicine or surgery. This number is
expected to double by the year 2020. (World Health Organization, 2004).

• Over 90% of these visually impaired people live in developing countries like India.

• Less than 15% of these visually impaired people in developing countries like India have access to vision
enhancement or vision rehabilitation services that could help to change their lives.
• There are over 1.4 million visually impaired children age 0-14 years

Tips on Eye Donation:

• Fortunately lost sight can be restored through medical intervention of Corneal Transplantation through donated eyes. YOU CAN LET THIS HAPPEN. DONATE EYES OF YOUR DEAREST.
• Eyes of the deceased of any age can be donated whether he / she has pledged his / her eyes or not. For Eye donation, call the nearest EYE BANK.
• Spectacle wearers, diabetics, hypertensives and people suffering from systemic diseases like asthma and tuberculosis also can donate eyes. Patients who have undergone cataract surgery also can donate eyes.
• All religions endorse the practice of EYE DONATION.

Those of us who have been blessed with a healthy mind and body need to stop a while and reflect on those who are challenged mentally, physically or visually.

I hope this post stirs some feelings in the readers and many of you will pledge your eyes so that one soul can see the beauty of this planet once we have departed from here for good. Go ahead, DONATE YOUR EYES.