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How a trek led to the start of a larger journey - My Take by P Devendra, Founder, Nayan Foundation

In My Take this week, Ponnalagar Devendra, founder-president of Nayan Foundation in Mumbai, talks about the many different ways in which he is working to break the biases towards blind and low vision people.

I reject the word impossible, not just for myself but for everyone who has a vision impairment. Right from my childhood, I have been an outgoing person and have never allowed my disability to come in the way of participating in any activities.

My early schooling was at the Happy Home School for the Blind in Mumbai. It was while studying at Ruia College that I started taking part in indoor games like chess and carrom as well as sports like cricket.

Around this time, I also joined the NSS and would go on treks with sighted people. While I enjoyed them, I also realized how such outings for vision impaired people were always planned by the sighted. There were no such activities for us.

I started thinking about how to change this and it motivated me to plan a trek with 13 visually impaired people to Shivneri Fort in 2010. This was quite special as it was the first time that visually impaired people went on a trek without volunteers to support them.

The excursion was a turning point in my life. I realized that blind people do not have to wait for others and are more than capable of exploring their world if they had the courage to go out of their comfort zones.

In 2011 I formed a trekking group under the name of Nayan Foundation. We not only did treks but started planning other activities like chess competitions and tree plantation drives.

Since then the NGO has consistently looked to set benchmarks and achieve new milestones when it comes to empowering visually impaired people. We reach out to blind boys and girls and I personally train them. We formed the first Dahi Handi group of blind boys in 2014 called Nayan Drishtiheen Govinda Pathak. We also set up a similar group of blind girls in 2017. The girls group is active in Nashik and Alibaug in Maharashtra.

Apart from this, Nayan Foundation also works towards creating employment opportunities for visually impaired people. Safety and security, especially of blind girls, is an issue and we offer lessons in self defense. We have an international-level taekwondo coach Usha Shirke working with the girls.

In 2016 Nayan Foundation teamed up with the Netra Group and organised the world's first yoga utsav by visually Impaired people. The goal is to show that given support and encouragement, people with disabilities can aim for the stars.

Going forward my dream is to launch English medium schools in Maharashtra for blind people. The community also struggles for basic facilities like playgrounds and sports complexes. I want to change that".

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