IT was the peak hour at the Canara Bank branch in Delhi, and it was crowded as usual. But the bedlam soon simmered down when Allah Rakhi’s hands swiftly moved among the pile of documents, simultaneously responding to every customer query with a smile. Everyone was in awe. The wonder was not because Allah Rakhi is a diligent young probationary officer. It’s because she is completely blind.
Allah Rakhi is one of the many visually impaired girls who have etched a successful career for themselves with the support of Blind Welfare Society (BWS), a Delhi-based nonprofit organisation. BWS empowers girls with sight impairment by providing free accommodation, education, training, employment and rehabilitation services.
Double cross to bear
While poverty and discrimination come hand in hand with disability in our country, visually impaired girls share a higher burden. The discrimination against girls with disabilities is so inherent that it is almost considered normal. In many families in India, a girl with sight challenges is regarded as a burden and blot on the family’s honour. The girls are often stigmatised in their own homes and driven towards hopelessness.
Blind women in India do not have access to the same quality of life, education or employment when compared to someone who isn’t blind. Education becomes a major hurdle for girls with sight disabilities since towns and villages in India don’t have government-run blind schools, and the nearest one could be miles away in cities, making it extremely difficult.
When Kajal became blind at the young age of nine, villagers and her relatives called her a stroke of ill-luck. She was emotionally abused. The whispers of her being the root-cause of the family’s misfortunes became louder when she grew up and wanted to pursue higher education and realise her dreams.
Kajal’s parents were advised not to invest in her education, but she was lucky that they didn’t listen to anybody but their daughter. BWS came to Kajal’s aid at the right time in her life.
A visionary without vision
BWS was founded by R P Bhola, who himself was visually impaired. A teacher by profession, he became a fierce advocate of equal opportunities for the disabled. He wanted to lead by example and established BWS, a free residential home for blind girls from any part of India.
Staying at BWS, the girls can pursue college and competitive exams, free of cost. What started with only two visually impaired girls, now accommodates 40. Most of them have escaped abusive, unsupportive environments to this safe nest where they can learn, unfurl their wings and achieve their dreams.
The girls are provided shelter, nutritious food, medical care, training and mentoring to meet their academic goals through technological tools such as DVD players, Daisy players and Braille books. They are also assisted in getting gainful employment.
Coronavirus – a threat to their dreams
But COVID-19 has dealt a blow to the smooth functioning of BWS. Donors have diminished and so have the contributions. This has led to a crisis at BWS threatening the future of the organisation and the girls dependent on it.
“When I first enrolled in this hostel, I thought I found a safe home… where I could study and stay and find a job. A place where no one would consider me a burden. For the first time in my life, I had friends, mentors…three meals a day and, moreover, a hope that even a blind girl like me can believe in dreams. But now, I’m afraid that I have to go back to my village,” says Kajal.
Facing a financial crunch, BWS is finding it difficult to meet the needs of its residents and is on the verge of shutting down. To provide proper nutrition, educational support, healthcare and free accommodation, BWS needs ₹1.74 lakh for each girl per year. A little contribution to this fundraiser for them will go a long way in helping the girls live a life of dignity, and achieve their life goals.
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Sruthy is a content writer at GiveIndia. A post-graduate in Literature, she is a connoisseur of dank memes… and biriyani. Sruthy is a permaculture enthusiast and likes to write stories about people’s lives for the social sector.