Dr. Kanchan Gaba, current secretary of Turnstone Global lost her vision at a very early age due to Glaucoma. Since then, she has been a student of Calcutta Blind School. During her school days, in the early 80s, she was a student member of The National Association of the Blind. Later, she pursued a Doctorate in Law from the University of Calcutta, where she also served as a professor for a long time.
“When I was a student member, NAB was being run by its founding members. It used to actively help visually challenged students with books etc. Established in the late 1970s, the orgaisation was registered in 1990. I was a member then and was involved in its various activities. In 2004, I took over as secretary,” says Kanchan.
In 2012, the West Bengal Government enacted the Names and Emblems (Prevention of Improper Use ) Act 195o, which prevents the usage of words National, Hindustan, Bharat or synonyms of the same for non-government organisations. This led to the renaming of the organization to ‘Turnstone Global.’
“Turnstone is a bird found in coastal regions of Australia, which turns stone to look for invertebrates. It does laborious work and always succeeds. We wanted our work to be similar. Hence the name Turnstone,” explains Kanchan.
Since its rechristening, the organization has actively been serving people in slums in and around Calcutta. One such slum is Basanti Colony. Surrounded by malls and just adjacent to the Bidhan Nagar railway station, it is one of Calcutta’s biggest slums. On any given day, you will find groups of children, unsupervised, in different corners of the slum. This is because their parents are away at work – as daily wage labourers or domestic help. It is for this reason that Turnstone Global has set up a non-formal education center here.
Run from 2-6pm from Monday to Friday, the children here are taught the basics of English, Math, Bengali and other subjects taught in regular schools. In addition to running a non-formal school, the unit also functions as an after school centre for meritorious students to augment the teaching process in regular schools. Children attending classes at this centre are also provided with a nutritional diet (egg, banana). As no other NGO had set up a center at Basanti Colony, the Turnstone Global team felt that it would be worth their while to do so.
Despite a lack of educational facilities, it wasn’t easy convincing parents to send their kids to the center, once it was set up. So, Turnstone Global involved local residents, to whom they would relate better, to overcome this initial hurdle.
With time, as interactions with the slum dwellers grew, Turnstone Global noticed that a large number of them suffer from ear and eye problems. Thus, the Organisation extended their Eye Care project and Hearing Aid Distribution project to Basanti Colony. At regular intervals, an audiologist visits, and identifies patients as mild, moderate, or severe cases. Severe cases are referred to the city hospital.
Apart from hearing aids and non-formal education, the organization also supports high school children with scholarships.
“One of the major challenges are funds. We have a huge demand in need but we are not able to supply the same due to funds limitation,” continues Kanchan.
Irrespective of challenges, the organization is recognized globally and turning stones when it comes to helping the needy.