“So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.” — Christopher Reeve
Shalini Vats’ The National School for the Blind Is Bringing Education To The Blind In Kullu, Himachal Pradesh.
This is so true for those who have the will to bring about some change. It all starts with an idea, a voice inside, which urges us to follow. Yes, most do not adhere to this calling, while some take the risk. And those who allow themselves to be an instrument of change, with determination and perseverance, their success is inevitable.
One of those who followed her calling is Ms. Shalini Vats, who has set an example for many to follow.
Shalini today has established The National School for the Blind, Himachal Pradesh Branch, and works with the visually impaired children of the Himalayan region. In Himachal Pradesh alone, there are about 15500 plus visually impaired children and there is a lot more that is required to be done.
Shalini was born in Kullu and completed her education there itself. Her biggest influence was her aunt Smt. Chandra Abha.
Shalini was closely connected with her work and started learning the ropes from an early age.
Smt Chander Abha worked in the field of women empowerment since 1983. They focused on bringing women under one banner to help them get employment, explore new options, and provide training for their financial stability and economic rehabilitation. This included things like mushroom farming, pickle making, weaving, knitting, and various other trades.
To encourage these women to come forward to take up these jobs, they started a crèche. While visiting the center, she came across a 10-year-old child who was blind and could not go to any school, as there were no institutes supporting blind children in that region.
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As they say, “Opportunities will come and go, but if you do nothing about them, so will you.” ― Richie Norton.
This was what drove Abha Ji to collaborate with the National Association for the Blind and establish the Himachal Pradesh Branch. The idea germinated because she found one child who needed this facility, and today, they are helping hundreds. The seeds were sown in the year 1999 when the school was established with 4 children.
Shalini joined the organization in 2001 with 7 children. The organization National Association for Blind gave her the task of North Zone Coordinator. She travelled across the country exploring what other NGOs were doing.
She then started work of moving the children to the inclusive set of Sarv Shiksha Abhiyan schemes and she proposed that these programs get implemented at the country level. But it takes years to transform into reality on the ground. She had to get a special DO Note from the Minister of Education even though the component of Sarv Shiksha allowed special children to be a part of Regular government school.
Slowly the organization grew and today they work on various programs and helped a lot of children to complete their education and get rehabilitated. They shifted from Special Education to Integrated Education, following various models of Education for the specially abled.
Shalini proudly says, “We have 32 passed-out children working in government jobs across the State, few of them establishing and flourishing in the field of music.”
She believed that every child needs to be given every opportunity to flourish despite any disability.
Landmarks projects that Shalini Vats and her team have covered over time are –
- Establishing self-help women’s groups.
- Setting up a special school for differently abled.
- Computer training programs for the Visually Impaired
- Training of teachers in Deaf-Blindness who later became part of Sarv Shiksha Abhiyan.
- Setting up of audio library followed by online library and linkage of Visually Impaired in the state with this digital online library.
- They were able to initiate an E series booklet for Examination of Special Children from the HP Board of school education.
- Introduction of assistive technology to the Blind in Himachal along with facilitation of distribution through linkages.
It is not easy to work with differently abled children, especially in the mountain region where commuting is not so easy.
The local authorities recognized the efforts made by Abha Ji and Shalini Ji in bringing some light in the lives of the blind children, and acknowledgment followed.
- Young achievers Award Amar Ujala (CCC Achiever 2016).
- National award for CHILD Welfare year 2005.
The organization has been awarded at all the various levels at District, State and National by the Dept. of Women and Child for its efforts in the Lives of children with special needs.
All these years of experience led Shalini to help other organizations and share her own experiences and tools they use. She worked as a committee member for various organizations. Such as:
- State Disability Coordination Committee, under the Disability Act 1995
- Governing Council Sarva Shikha Abhiyan.
- District level member of SC ST committee for Compensation
- District level monitoring committee meeting of MP Fund
- District Level National Trust Committee.
Gaining more and more experience while working with other organizations also, Shalini kept adding new teaching modules to make these students more self-sufficient.
The school is looking after the education of the primary section, pre-integration & self-management of the children. This unit of NAB plays a vital role in preparing the children for various skills like Daily Living Skills and repeated activity is a must to train to master each skill like brushing, using of toilets, bathing, eating on their own, identifying their clothes, maintaining their cupboards, tying of shoelaces, etc.
Teaching regular children is still easier, but you need highly skilled teachers with great sensitivity and compassion to emotionally connect to these differently abled Braveheart’s.
The teachers are looking after the following skills.
- Sensory skills.
- Tactile Stimulation
- Auditory stimulation
- Orientation and Mobility-Within school and stepping outside into the neighboring area and crossing the road.
- Mental stimulation is prime to keep them motivated.
- Working on Taylor’s frame and abacus for math and introducing them to computers was an interesting skill set.
Completing their studies and getting a 10th and 12th exam certificate is a must. The Curriculum is set as per NCERT or HP board syllabus. Braille books through SSA.
Becoming computer savvy is a basic requirement today. And yes, these visually impaired children are introduced to computers with screen reading software.
They are extremely fast learners as their senses are powerful and grasping strength is strong. Music Education through another society called Sutradhar Kala Sangam for interested candidates were established.
Some of the students have reached the level of participating in the TV show Sa RE Ga Ma and touched fame.
“Abled does not mean enabled. Disabled does not mean less abled”. This is what is drilled into their psyche daily. This helps them to build their self-confidence.
This school believes in Integrated Education.
Shalini explains that, ”The organization does not believe in segregation of these children but integration with the mainstream schools. In integrated education, the visually impaired and sighted children study together in the same school, attend classes together as well as participate together in sports, cultural events, and other activities.
We are working with these schools to create an appropriate learning and teaching environment for blind and low-vision students. At the elementary as well as secondary levels, the school is assisting the children to pursue their higher education by arranging special classes after school for all that they have missed in school. We also provide Braille and daisy books to these students.
Special equipment for writing Braille Math and Geometry, a daisy player, white canes, school bags, etc., are made available to every child studying under the program. We encourage that both sighted children and visually impaired work close to each other from an early age, making them aware of each other’s unique potentials and strengths and creating better understanding and acceptance. Presently, we are having 35 visually impaired students in Integrated Education Section.”
Apart from the achievement and accolades, the path to reach here was not easy. There are unlimited challenges that Shalini has to manage without regular funding.
- The Government grants are very limited and extremely tedious to attain.
- The corporate CSR funds do not reach the ground levels.
- There is a lot of corruption and red tape.
- Months of waiting without a response make it difficult to function.
- The infrastructure is limited.
- The equipment needs to be replaced or repaired.
- The teachers and staff need to be paid.
- When more children join, the space needs to be expanded.
During the COVID pandemic, donations reduced to the minimum. Survival was tough. Yet, they did not let the students suffer.
“Believe you can and you’re halfway there”. Shalini faced many obstacles and delays, yet, she did not give up.
During the pandemic, various awareness camps were held to enlighten normal villagers. For visually impaired children, special teaching techniques were invented to explain the effect of Corona Virus on the lungs.
“Just because a man lacks the use of his eyes doesn’t mean he lacks vision.” — Stevie Wonder
And with all the efforts of Shalini Vats, many differently abled children have gained proper education and also got into government jobs, and are financially independent.
There are thousands of genuine social workers contributing to reducing the pain of the underprivileged, but few, like Shalini Vats, ventures into dealing with those who are specially challenged and successfully help them to become financially independent and self-reliant, lead a life of dignity and respect. Actually bringing in change in the lives of those who need it the most.
Shalini Vats, Kudos to you and your team!
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