In a small two-storey structure among iron warehouses at Reay Road in Mumbai, a group of visually-challenged persons, 12 men and 15 women, paid the perfect tribute to their hero Louis Braille on his 202nd birth anniversary. Concentrating hard as they slid their fingers on a sheet of paper punctured with hundreds of tiny dots, they identified the patterns of words punched on the paper in the Braille script and read them out aloud for others to listen as part of the competition.
A private company had, as part of its corporate social responsibility, announced that the winners would be awarded a special Louis Braille wristwatch, a part of which is manufactured in France. Says Babita Jaiswal, one of the participants of the competition, “It’s a bigger occasion for us than the New Year’s eve. We are having a reading competition for the first time.”
All partipants are unemployed beneficiaries of the organisation, aged 15-40, who are getting trained at the NAB workshop for vocational jobs that can ensure them a job once they move out of the organisation. From making paper bags, to folders and oil lamps to hats worn by chefs in five-star hotels, the centre trains them in skills that will find them a job, in addition to giving them a stipend of Rs. 75 a day till the training period is completed. They also learn the basics in Braille writing and reading at the workshop.
Swati Kasare, winner of the competion, beams with happiness as she feels the watch on her left wrist and informs others that the time is 1700 hours. She was the only contender who could read the paragraph written in Braille without stopping or stammering. “The watch costs more than Rs. 600 and I wouldn’t have been able to afford it myself. I am glad to have won.” Runners-up Prashant Salunkhe and Chhaya Barde, who also got the watches, nod in agreement.
The five-year-old centre has managed to survive despite severe funds crunch. Project head Ashok Parihar says it is the enthusiasm of teachers and learners that keep things going. “After the training, we help them in induction into jobs as well. While they are getting trained here, we get orders from big companies to manufacture items such as diyas, paper bags, rakhis etc. This gets us some money but we mostly have to rely on big donations that don’t come by easily.”
Bags and plates made out of waste Braille paper are among the most sold products. “Many a time, these students make mistakes while learning the Braille script that renders the paper they are practising on useless. Such paper is then used to make bags and plates. These are an instant hit amongst buyers when we put up stalls at exhibitions, such as the Kala Ghoda festival.”
The National Institute for the Blind is one of the 250+ nonprofits listed on www.GiveIndia.org. It meets the 49 criteria/norms laid down by GiveIndia that ensure an organisation is both credible and transparent. You too can contribute to their efforts by:
Educating a blind child for a year for Rs. 5,000