A convoluted journey but a hopeful one

Santosh Vakole’s life is a testimony for those millions of people who are marginalized to invisibility in India and the difficulty to get out of that rut. Disability, poverty, lack of access to education, unemployment, and many such circumstances are detriments to the social and economic progress of our country. When politics and its promises fail to deliver to these people, they become victims to the bias of the law, failure of the markets and vagaries of the weather. The age old adage proves true each time ‘The rich get richer and the poor get poorer’.

24 year old Santosh Vakole is from Vidharbha region of Maharashtra, the youngest among four siblings and the only visually impaired from an economically poor family. Poverty is his largest experience on living life and everything else is secondary to him and his family. With their four children his parents have suffered much and income from his father’s painting job was never sufficient. Much earlier in their lives the family shifted to Mumbai seeking better employment opportunities. But what the father plying his painting job could earn was not enough to take care of the growing children and their needs. Being uneducated and unaware, his parents had no idea about a life with blindness. They were better off thinking about the other three sighted children and thus the family survived each day struggling to make ends meet. Parents put Santosh in the nearby Municipal Corporation School, a mainstream school where he struggled to keep up with the demands of the classroom. His only support were his friends who read aloud the class notes for him, helping Santosh study for exams and also in writing exams. The school didn’t have any facilities to cater to his needs. He also had no knowledge about any technology or aids in making education easier for himself. Thus, his education continued as a conundrum in his life. What his parents could do was minimal; they were capable of only sending him out into the world and expect the world to mould him.

He continued education for a few more years before financial troubles forced the family to relocate to Aurangabad. In Aurangabad their financial condition didn’t improve and they struggled living in a slum. But his parents didn’t stop educating him and he was put in a residential special school for visually impaired boys in Jalna in 6th standard. Here he learned Braille and acquired few basic skills to manage his life forward and finished his 12th standard. But the family’s financial troubles were not giving them any let-up even after so many years. Thus, Santosh decided to not study further but join some vocational training which will help him find employment soon. He joined National Association for the Blind (NAB), Mumbai and underwent various training programs there. With some basic vocational training he tried for jobs but failed to gain one. This prompted him to pursue further education. After spending a year on training and job hunting, he joined for under graduation in a college in Mumbai. But his misfortunes continued. This time he was denied a scribe to write his exams. Santosh left the college in Mumbai and came back to Aurangabad and enrolled for graduation again.

By now his parents were finding hard to care for him. They expected him to earn and take care of himself. Also he needed much physical support; for instance, his mother had to help him negotiate the railway tracks every day, next to where they lived so that he could get to college. His college fee, daily expenses and dependence on others made the family uncomfortable. Family support waned. Santosh got to know about Eyeway from a friend of his and contacted for the first time in 2017. After that he is in constant touch with Eyeway, clearing various day to day doubts of his and Eyeway empowering him to become independent and mentally stronger. He wanted to know about some education scholarship so that he can meet his college fees himself and on any other available financial support. Eyeway counsellor shared with him some useful information on scholarships and government schemes he could avail. Now again he faced exam related issues in college. This time it was relating to extra time and eligibility regarding the scribe. College authorities argued for a lesser qualified scribe and allowed no extra time. Here Eyeway intervened and suggested him to settle the issue by contacting the University. Santosh did as directed by the Eyeway counselor; the university acknowledged the guidelines and conveyed the same to the college authorities. Thus, his issue was successfully resolved and he gave his exams with the help of a scribe of his choice with extra time.

Though nothing much has changed in his family in terms of their finances or attitude towards him, Santosh is hopeful of a change in the near future. He is positive about finishing college, finding a job and helping out his family in the best way possible. Eyeway has offered all support to him and wishes him the best ahead.