How it began at Mitra Jyoti

Mitra Jyoti has been set up by Madhu Singhal. Herself visually-impaired, Madhu faced a lot of hurdles as a young girl. This became the primary motivation behind setting up Mitra Jyoti. Infact, most of the services offered by the organisation find their roots in her personal struggles.

Born blind, Madhu was brought up in Rohtak, Haryana. With no cure for her blindness back in the day, doctors advised her parents to invest in her education instead. Says Madhu, “40-45 years ago, no one knew how to educate a blind person. Parents who had visually-impaired or challenged children were clueless on the future of their children. Luckily I had good parents.”

That’s how Madhu, unlike other visually-impaired of her time, has had a totally normal upbringing, and good education. With very few schools for the visually impaired, that too largely ill-equipped, her mother arranged a Braille teacher for her at home. Her siblings used to read out to her too. All this enabled her to shift to a regular school, class 6 onwards, at the age of 14. She thus went on to complete her graduation in literature and political science, as well as her post-graduation in Hindustani Music. That too first in class, always!

In 1990, she came to Bangalore to visit her sister. It was here that her sister’s husband prodded her to go out and meet other visually-impaired people. Initially reluctant, Madhu started contacting others like her. She started making pen pals with other blind people too. It was only a matter of time till she made friends not just with the blind, but those with other disabilities too. Her interactions with them made her realize how fortunate she had been – to lead a regular life and get a good education; many people had no education at all.

After 2.5 years of learning Kanada, getting accustomed to Bangalore’s culture and interacting with other disabled people, she gained much confidence. So, instead of a career in music, she decided to do something more, something not only for herself but also for others like her. With support from her brother-in-law once again, she registered Mitra Jyoti in 1990.

Her organisation will soon complete 25 years of devoted service to the visually impaired. From education and training to employment, the organisation has started a host of services over the years to help the visually-impaired overcome obstacles that they face. A large part of these difficulties were faced by Madhu herself, growing up.

The difficulties faced in college to get hold of study materials, is what motivates the organisation to record books in different languages through their Talking Books Library. Being a visually-impaired woman herself, she realized how protective parents of women like her can be. But at the same time, it’s important that these same women are able to live independently too. This prompted the Independent Living Skills Training for Women in 1997.

But what after the training? The organized came to realize over time that even their trainees hardly ever found jobs. This lead to the Placement Cell. They started placing persons as garment unit helpers, assemblers – any job that required routine kind of work. Soon, many people started asking why they were offering this service only to the blind? That’s how they started helping people with all kind of disabilities with placements.

Mitra Jyoti believes that people with disabilities have the potential to become independent if they are given the right opportunities. Madhu’s life is testimony to this fact. The organisation’s mission is thus to play a pivotal role in giving the blind these opportunities.

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