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Help The Blind Foundation is enabling people to reach new levels of excellence every day

Be it in the field of education or at the workplace, the opportunities for visually impaired people in India are many. Enabling them to realize their potential is a major challenge, a task that Chennai-based Help The Blind Foundation (HTBF) has been committed to since 2005.

To achieve this, HTBF reached out to blind and low vision students in colleges through scholarships, the aim being to stem the high dropout rates.

"Most visually impaired students go to school but drop out when they reach a higher level and this is primarily because support at the college level was lacking," says Sivaji Rao, Trustee, HTBF. "So, we started off by giving scholarships to college students and this got a good response. We now have about 2,600 people receiving scholarships around India."

Under the scholarship program, eligible students receive financial support to meet the cost of tuition and hostel fees. There is an annual stipend offered to day scholars as well as support in extra-curricular activities. Among those to have benefitted by the scholarship program is Mohammed Bilal, who is now a trainer with HTBF in their Chennai office. "HTBF came into my life when I was in Class 8. They offered many facilities like computer training and also partly funded by graduation expenses at Loyola College. Today, as a trainer, I teach communication skills and computers to students."

Future goals

HTBF now has plans to go a step further by offering skills training to students alongside their education. They are doing this in partnership with organizations like Enable India, and the National Association of the Blind in Delhi, to name a few.

The idea of starting such a skills training program came up during our conversations with Cognizant regarding job opportunities. We realized that just a two or three month on the job training was not enough. Rather, we had to look at a process that involved constant training right through their academic sessions. That is why we are tying up with all these organizations. - Sivaji Rao, Trustee, Help the Blind Foundation

The training focuses on three aspects - English conversational skills, computers, as well as lifestyle, which aims to boost motivation and morale. "This is to make sure they feel confident when they leave college," adds Rao.

Among the partner organizations is also the Poona Blind Men's Association (PBMA), India's largest technical training institute for blind and low vision people, which aims to enable them to lead independent lives.

'At our organization we give training in computers and tele-calling," says J P Banerjee, Honorary Director, PBMA. "The HTBF has an all India reach and they gave us inputs on how to make visually impaired people capable for various industries like banking. They also gave us information about personality development and skills-based training from the employers' perspective. We are working on a roadmap to take this forward."

A key aspect of this partnership is awareness and along with Enable India, HTBF has held workshops to help create this this.

"Through their scholarship program, HTBH has a presence in colleges across India," says Moses Chowdari, Head, Enable Vision Cell, Enable India and in Enable India we focus on livelihoods and digital literacy. Ninety per cent of visually impaired community don't even know such initiatives exist. So, we thought why not hold awareness workshops in colleges in cities like Lucknow, Varanasi and Delhi. Our trainers conduct 'reading without seeing' workshops, where teachers get to know of the potential of technology as a learning tool as well as career awareness modules where we talk about different career opportunities for visually impaired people and how to get them ready."

At these workshops, visually impaired youth also get to hear from role models like Gaurav Mishra, a HTBF beneficiary currently doing a Masters degree at St Stephen's College in Delhi University. He was an active member of the Enabling Unit of his college and is also an avid sportsman. He plans to take the Civil Service exams in the future.

"Thanks to the support given by HTBF, I have felt empowered and confident about myself. The financial support they offered gave me a strong foundation and enabled me to have dreams."

It is this exactly this mindset that HTBF aims to develop among a larger number of people in the visually impaired community.

ALSO READ:Chennai BPO CAN DO is enabling people with disabilities to realise their potential in the workforce

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