Visiting Premasree: Home for the Blind and Visually Impaired Children
Sometimes life makes us realize how fortunate we are when we get the opportunity to have a closer look at the plights of others. As a child, I remember, when I used to ask my father to buy me a book or a pencil, I always got more than one. If I loved something to eat, I would get that right before me without having to ask for it. I was never a fussy or demanding child, but almost every need of mine was taken care of by my parents.
A few days back, I had the privilege to visit a residential home for blind and visually impaired children. Visiting this place and communicating with these kids have been an experience that I will treasure for lifetime. When I stepped in, the music class had just got over. The teacher made the kids revise the lyrics and there began the saccharine chorus, so soothing to the ears. Quietly moving in without disturbing their practice, I sat down and watched them enjoy the waves of music with radiant smiles on their innocent faces. As the teacher informed them about this new visitor, most children broadened their cordial smile, some shied away and a little one asked hesitantly, “Ke eshechhe?” (Who has come?) in an adorable voice.
Saying hello and introducing self to them was again a delightful experience. Probably, I had never felt happier introducing myself any other day because the reception that I got from these kids is inexplicable. For the first time in my life, I got to learn that eyes that are deprived of vision can be so expressive!
It was time for their classes. All of them were instructed to get up and go to their respective classrooms. One amazing thing to notice was that the kids got up and went to wear their shoes that they had removed aside in a neat line while sitting down for their music class. Each of them went to their own pair of shoes and wore them with ease. One girl initially stopped before a pair of shoes, put her feet up to put them on but within a second, she put her feet back and headed for the pair of shoes beside. That pair was hers! I was surprised by the level of training these kids were being given.
The kids dispersed in small groups led by trainers to their classrooms. One group of children headed towards the art room. I followed them. The art room has a big centre table with benches on all four sides. There are shelves neatly decorated with models of various famous Indian personalities, birds and animals. The students quietly seated themselves with ease and the trainers gave each of them a quantity of modelling clay, asking them to practice what they have been taught the other day. They began to roll the clay and enthusiastically started giving it shape. “What are they doing?” I asked one of the trainers, Mrs Sapna Maity. “They are going to make tigers”, she replied with a warm, content smile. “These children are talented. They perceive everything by touch. When we train them, we make them feel the structure of various fruits, animals, personalities”, she continued.
Three girls, who have some percentage of vision, attempted sketching the figure of tiger. I stood aside and watched them delightfully while the trainers guided. From Mrs Sapna Maity, I came to know that most of these children hailed from the poverty ridden rural and suburban areas of West Bengal and Jharkhand. Coming from families whose per capita income is far below the national average (as low as Rs.60), these children were neglected, subject to malnutrition, unhygienic living conditions and some were even abandoned. Here, they are given training emphasizing on self-sufficiency for movability and daily activities; academic education including subjects like maths, language, history, geography, science, etc. are taught in braille; training in concept formation and basic computer training is given through the specialized software JAWS; vocational training like tailoring, weaving, making bags, packaging, etc. are also taught with special care. Sports is an integral part of the school curriculum and these children are also encouraged to participate. Some of these kids are very good in cricket and chess. Presently, there are 30 children in the home.
“They have some special abilities as well. They can say who is coming from a far distance; they can predict if it’s going to rain”, she said with a sense of pride. I quickly took a round at the table to see what the children have come up with so far. Surprisingly, some of them were very good in clay modelling. I quickly started to engage in a conversation with Chaitali, one of the kids. But she was too shy to open up and just gave back a nervous smile while continuing to carve designs on the clay with her scalpel. Mrs Maity prompted, “She is very shy but she is a very good singer.” I pat her back and encouraged her. One of the trainers then showed me a tray full of vegetable models that these kids have made the other day. It’s truly said, that just because someone cannot see does not mean one doesn’t have vision.
While this group of children were engaged in clay modelling, I thought to explore the other classrooms. Arriving at class 2, here some children were sitting on the desks waiting for their teacher to arrive. In the meanwhile, I got introduced to the kids. The trainer asked them to recite a rhyme and they started in chorus, smiling in between. A kid named Shyamsunder, popularly known here as Sam, the naughtiest of the lot, tried to irritate another kid standing beside him. Funny though, poor Sam stopped after receiving a warning from the trainer. The teacher had arrived by then and exchanging a few words with him, I along with the trainer moved out of the class and walked around the home.
The home spreads over an extensive secured area of one lakh square feet complete with farmlands, poultry and cow sheds. All kinds of vegetables are grown in well-organized blocks dedicated for each vegetable and marked with neat signboards. The kids are also encouraged to engage in farming where they are given hands-on training of concept formation and identification. There are classrooms, separate dormitories for boys and girls, washrooms and lavatories, store room, kitchen, dining room – all well planned and managed.
It was time for lunch and I was privileged to share the dining room with these fantastic kids. It was a fun time, chit chatting with them, pulling their legs and enjoying the lunch. We spent nearly an hour in the dining room and then, it was time to disperse once again. The teachers and trainers are very caring and they ensured that each of the kids had their hands washed with hand wash. One of the kids even came up and asked me if I would prefer hand soap or hand wash. Such lovely kids!
Post lunch, the children were sent to their dormitories for taking rest. The classes were over for the day. Some of the trainers stayed back in the dormitory to help the kids. I walked my way slowly towards the management room right at the entrance. Just in front of the music room, the walls were decorated with the achievements of these kids – medals won in various sports, certificates, newspaper cut outs of various media coverage, photographs, events, etc. I sat down and repeatedly looked at them with a sense of pride, fulfilment and inspiration – an inexplicable feeling.
Suddenly two small hands touched my hand. A little kid probably six years old named Sanju came to befriend me. I stood up and he kind of hugged me and tried to feel me. “Come, I will show you the mango tree”, he said with his cute voice. He hold my hand and pulled me in his direction. “Where are you taking me?” I asked him smiling and he adorably asked me to follow him. There were a few stairs at the entrance. I asked him if he could pass on the stairs and he confidently nodded. Slowly and steadily, as I held his palm strongly with concern, he figured out the steps and on reaching the ground, he smiled and pressed my palm with a confident expression of accomplishment. In front was the car in which I had arrived. He touched it and tried to feel it, asking me “what is this” at every little step. Going about four rounds around the car with me, he completely figured out which was the window, door, bonnet, mud guard, wheels, back door, everything. And once again, he hugged me with delight. He then remembered that he was actually there to show me the mango tree. He counted his steps and took me right in front of the mango tree. He asked, “Can you see the mangoes”? It was not the season of mangoes, however, I said, “I don’t recognize mangoes”. He giggled and went ahead to check out the branches. He touched the lower branches and looked disappointed. He didn’t know that the season was over. “There are no mangoes now”, he said and then offered me to show the garden instead.
It was very cloudy and was about to rain. So, I took him inside and convinced him that I will see it the next time and that now he must go to sleep with his friends. I took him to the dormitory and handed him over to the trainer. It was a blissful sight to see the kids rest and sleep. I realized that they need comfortable beds to sleep, especially when the monsoons have already arrived and will be followed with the winters.
It was time for me to take leave. Bidding goodbye to all, I left the home with a smile but my heart stayed back. Coming back from the home, I have started two social campaigns for these kids. I am fundraising for 30 comfortable beddings for them – view my campaign here.