The primary force behind Shree Navchetan Andhjan Mandal (SNAM) is Mr. Laljibhai M Prajapati. A native of Bachchau, Mr. Laljibhai lost his eyesight at a young age, soon after he completed his SSC/standard 10 examinations. All he knows is that the loss was due to some sort of a nerve dysfunction, which was hard to detect and correct back in the day. He went on to become a Government-hired music teacher; and it was during this time that he started thinking a lot about visually-impaired people and their career options.
His primary concern arose from the fact that he being musically-inclined could overcome his disability and lead a fairly regular life. But what about those for whom many doors are already shut; and their disability shuts the remaining? So, as he kept up his Government service, he simultaneously started work on setting up a nonprofit organisation for the visually-impaired. Thus was borne Shree Navchetan Andhjan Mandal in 1976.
It started off as an old age home for blind senior citizens in Bachchau. Says Mr. Laljibhai, “Usually people start the other way. Help a person by giving him an education, then cater to their vocational training, then think of their retirement. But I felt that it was aged blind people who needed the most help.” How then does the organisation cater to all types of disabled people today? To which he says, “While serving the blind, we also met people afflicted by other disabilities in villages. And we were inspired to serve not only the visually handicapped but the entire disabled community. Thus widening the work of the Mandal.”
During our chat he shared with me how he has always been a great believer in the power of technology. And that he was the only one in his village in Bachchau to have a computer, back in the day. I guess this explains why SNAM’s library and Braille unit have some of the latest machinery in the market, for the visually impaired.
He also kept asking me for feedback on how he could improve the workings of his NGO. To which I constantly reminded him that no one knows better than him himself, as he has seen 40 years of ups and downs; the biggest one being the 2001 Gujarat Earthquake, which destroyed their original old age home building in Bachchau (and tragically also took away Mr. Laljibhai’s father, who used to manage the center then). Ask him to sum up his 40 years of service, and he says, “It gives me immense pleasure to see visually impaired ( who have graduated from my school) go on to become engineers, shopkeepers or work-in companies. These were positions once considered unattainable for blind people like me, when I was young. And giving this sense of achievement and happiness to others is what makes me happy.”