3 inspiring women associated with the Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled show us what visually impaired people in India can achieve.
By Arundhati Venkatesh
Savithri has been working at a BPO run by the Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled, after completing her B.A. She has been learning dance right from her school days, and has travelled abroad many times.
Savithri is visually impaired. She hails from a village where there were no facilities for education. Her uncle, a bus conductor, met other visually impaired people on a bus journey and obtained information and contacts from them. Savithri was then sent to the Ramana Maharishi School for the Blind. After completing her 10 th std., she arrived at Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled and spent the next eight years there.
Gangamma, visually impaired, is a degree holder, a dancer and chess player. Gangamma has won the National Chess championship for the blind, and was also part of the Samarthanam troupe that won the All-India Dance competition in 2010. She has secured a job at a bank.
Gangamma is originally from a village in Bellary district, but has spent the last fifteen years in Bangalore. She came to Samarthanam for her PUC after completing her 10th.
Suma is a B.Com graduate, and works for Samarthanam as a Volunteer Co-ordinator. She is also visually impaired and arrived at Samarthanam to do her PUC after completing her 10th std. in a normal school.
The three women have travelled extensively for cultural tours and performances. I spoke to them about their passion, their accomplishments and their journey so far.
Suma lights up when talking about dance. She says, “Dancing makes me happy. I don’t feel any stage fear. We learn dance using the touch-and-feel method. We can’t execute eye movement, but apart from that we perform like sighted dancers. We walk around on stage and take steps to measure from the centre to sides before a performance. We perform in rhythm with the music.”
“It takes practice”, Savithri says, “I enjoy dancing a lot. I forget everything when I am dancing.”
According to Gangamma the key is not to lose orientation. “We can gauge the audience reaction and interest level from the claps”, she adds. Gangamma learnt to play the veena and the flute, before taking to dance. At first, she enjoyed the flute more as she could hear the music as she played. Gradually, Gangamma got interested and inspired by others in the dance troupe. Then there was no looking back.
“From not being able to speak English to being a confident woman, travel brought about the transformation”, Gangamma says.
“Communication definitely, and I learnt life skills too. People abroad do their own house work, they are independent”, Savithri tells me.
Gangamma says, “Samarthanam paid our college fees, provided computers, Internet, free accommodation and food. There are a lot of other things; I can’t express myself in words. No matter how much I say, it is not enough. I am totally blind; Vasanti ma’am (one of the Samarthanam Trustees) motivated me and was more than a mother.
Samarthanam may look small at first, but the facilities are very good and if one utilizes it well, he/she is sure to do well in life. Access to the Internet, computers, opportunities, foreign trips… I could forget about my disability. At home, extended family treated me with sympathy. At Samarthanam, I was treated as a capable person.”
At home, extended family treated me with sympathy. At Samarthanam, I was treated as a capable person.
“The food we had at Samarthanam was excellent, I can’t forget it,” Gangamma reminisces. “I feel welcome even now when I visit”, she adds.
On the transition to the real world, she says, “It was like being with parents while we were at Samarthanam, but now I am self reliant.”
“Learning computers and dance at Samarthanam was a turning point, it helped me come up in life”, says Suma.
Savithri is visibly grateful. “College admissions were over, I was late. But Vasanti ma’am took me to NMKRV college and requested the authorities. I got a seat thanks to Samarthanam. Samarthanam continued to support me – I studied and availed facilities without having to pay any fees. I now work at Samarthanam’s disabled-friendly rural BPO. The BPO is unlike anything I have seen before, and it employs almost a hundred people. I would like to thank everyone at Samarthanam”, Savithri says with emotion.
Savithri is very proud that she did well at both dance and academics. Gangamma agrees and says it required focus. Samarthanam helped by providing CDs/DVDs with lessons copied when they had to miss classes during tours.
Suma adds, “While theory classes were alright, I needed help from volunteers when it came to practicals. Computers helped a lot and made things easier”.
Savithri says, “Being blind is a boon. I wouldn’t have gone to America or studied as much otherwise. I got opportunities and made use of them. Had I resigned myself to thinking ‘I am blind’ I would’ve been sitting at home doing nothing. My parents did not differentiate between me and my siblings. At Samarthanam too, I was in an integrated school beside able-bodied children – we were treated as equals. That is what I would like to say – don’t differentiate, encourage. Don’t decide upfront that we can’t do something. Give us a chance to show we can.”
… don’t differentiate, encourage. Don’t decide upfront that we can’t do something. Give us a chance to show we can.
Gangamma states, “People think we can’t do because we can’t see. But we can, sometimes even better than those with sight. We are specially-abled. Try to overlook the fact that we can’t see.”
Savithri would like to provide books and finance education for a few children. “I also want to raise funds. I want to give back as much as I have taken assistance from Samarthanam,” says this confident young woman. “If possible, one can provide financial support, but that may not be possible for all. Start volunteering, reader services, recording, assisting during dance practice – there are many other ways one can make a difference,” She adds.
Gangamma suggests, “Be there, spend time. Arrange a field trip – it will be a good change from the routine for these kids who have no place to go to other than school/college and the NGO. It would be good to tie reward to achievement. Promise to fund the education of those who score more than 80%”.
*Photo credit: Arundhati Venkatesh.