Why invest in a blind child?

Mahesh Kumar from Patna, Bihar is a fighter. He survived many perils without education, training and adequate income but still stands tall to claim back the lost decades at the age of 34, the many years of unawareness, ignorance, and rejection. Visual impairment that struck him with blindness at the age of 10 was not the biggest problem he faced, now looking back. Poverty, an inebriate father, education aborted at 10 years, social stigma etc. had greater impacts on his life. It was only his mother who cared for him and till she passed. His father not only rejected any interventions in Mahesh’s life out of social stigma and could only care less for him or his family, due to his addicted drinking problem.

The meagre income his mother earned from the menial jobs she did kept their heads above water. He had to stop his schooling after 3rd standard after he contracted eye flu leading to visual impairment. At that point the family sought treatment for his eyes from multiple sources. But their finances, limited knowledge and social background didn’t help them much, except Mahesh having to gradually resign to the reality of blindness. The end of schooling meant a dead-end to his normal childhood. He became confined to his house having nothing to do ignorant to the years passing by him. Only intervention in his life occurred when one of his relative informed his case to the Blind School in Patna and the representative from there visited his family. But there was no escape yet. His father forbade him any outside intervention or exposure in fear of potential disgrace. And in 2004, at his age of 20, his father helped him and his elder brother to set up a mobile accessories shop. This was more out necessity than out of achieving any clear direction, with their family reeling in poverty and Mahesh becoming a liability. He was expected to be independent and find a way of living for himself. But having no education, training or knowledge about blindness, what he could do was minimal. He worked with his brother in the shop helping him to do the packaging or counting of goods. And after few years of them running the shop his brother started to feel the exhaustion of supporting him and their relationship soured as a result. Gradually his elder took the shop over and kept him away. This further left Mahesh in a deep crisis and the future appeared bleak. His mother being the only supporting person in the family also passed during this period leaving him in a total helpless situation. And all he could do was idle away at home contemplating how he can save himself and his family. And he did brood over it for long.

But life was not over for Mahesh. He never knew his it was about to change when he got the Eyeway toll-free number from a Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) representative in his village in 2018. Out of encouragement from this representative who is a teacher with the SSA camp, he contacted Eyeway in June 2018. His problems were spread among education, training and employment. After all the discrimination and negativity from his family, his desire to find an employment and become a bread-winner for his family was so inspiring. All he wanted was to generate a value for him through education or employment. But at 34 it was not going to be easy, also with zero physical independence. Eyeway counselor had to take a prudent call here. If it is education, there is always the possibility of open schooling to restart or to pursue from where it was left. But the age of the individual, financial situation, family circumstances are all vital before an advice is given because in India social and familial obligations can’t be easily overlooked. Counselor made the call of employment as the immediate solution for Mahesh which appeared a better choice at that point because his family’s biggest problem was income making his existence a liability. It was understood from his own words that neither he nor his family might have the patience to wait till he is educated again. Thus, counselor directed him to the Blind Relief Association (BRA), New Delhi multi-skill program where he can gain training, rehabilitation and technology skills needed for his independence and employment. Also, getting training for agricultural farming was suggested to him as a means for self-employment after gauging his circumstance of having no education or job-related training. But he chose the former and joined the BRA program in July 2018, considering the fact that he will earn multiple skills in one year.

Mahesh’s case is one of sheer ignorance, unawareness and social stigma. His education being cut-off as a young boy, prohibiting exposure to the world outside or rejecting any rehabilitation for him eventually didn’t help him or his family who took those decisions for him. And when he became an adult, the once over-protective family started disowning him and pressurizing him to be independent. Such cases are in plenty, especially in the rural India where many visually impaired individuals lose out on their all-important childhood to the stigmas, egos and complexes of ill-informed families and societies. A transformation in the mind-sets of people is vital to bring about any radical change to this. Individuals like Mahesh and their abilities are not to be squandered off but to be invested in and mainstreamed to the human capital of our country.