HYDERABAD: About 40 kids in the age group of 5 to 15 years participate in the annual L V Prasad Eye Institute’s (LVPEI) camp every year from in and around the adjacent cities.
They go back not just learning a few songs, dances and poems, making friends for life and also getting trained to face life’s obstacles. Since its inception in 2011, the summer camp has given a new lease of life to many. Specially organised for the differently-abled children, the camp has been bridging the gap between them and the outside world.
“The idea was to not let these kids feel left out during summers when other kids engage themselves into recreational activities,” says Dr Beula Christy, Head of Services in Institute of Vision Rehabilitation LVPEI, who initiated the move. The Children’s Rehabilitation Centre of LVPEI offers age-appropriate counselling to enable children to cope with regular schoolwork and home situations. Depending upon the child’s age and his/her non-visual capacities, an individualised rehabilitation programme is designed and implemented.
In an era where the fittest survives the game, some of these kids have risen above odds to defy the stereotypes. Dr Beula Christy talks proudly about kids who passed their 10th grade exams with flying colours. These children came as patients to the hospital and became regular to the rehabilitation centre thereafter.
Apart from doing exceptionally well in the board exams, they also engage themselves in various co-curricular activities. They are being trained to hone their sensory organs and sharpen their motor skills. Dr Beula and her team has witnessed hundreds of children coming over the years and leaving as independent people who are no less than any others.
Shiva Reddy, a 14-year-old from Begumpet, scored 9.3 CGPA from Devnar School for the Blind. On how he managed to do so well, he says, “I used to study by listening to the audio books. The LVPEI provided me with recordings whose audio was not available elsewhere.”
The Rehabilitation Centre has a studio where volunteers record audio of books and disseminate them to different schools and universities as well. These recordings have recently been adopted in the school curriculum by the governments of Telangana and Tripura.
A total of 163 LVPEI Rehabilitation centres cater to the demands of lakhs of visually-impaired children. “I want to be independent and live life the way I wish to,” says Shiva. An avid reader and a mono actor, Shiva commutes to the centre alone. “I take the public transportation every day”, beaming Shiva, who wishes to be an English Professor someday.
The children are made to learn a software called JAWS (Job Access with Speech). It provides speech and Braille output for the computer applications enabling them to learn without any physical hindrance. “I read a lot online through JAWS. I didn’t have to rely on someone for the recordings,” says Sushanth who scored an impressive 9.5 CGPA in 10th from Devnar School for the Blind.
He learnt to use the computer in the rehabilitation centre. “Apart from school studies, I read a lot of newspapers online,” says Sushanth who wishes to be a lawyer. The 14 year old wants to serve the society when he grows up and is adamant on changing the notion of the society towards the differently-abled. As a lawyer, he said he would work towards the disability rights and inspire others too. “Do not judge us by our physical appearance. We are as normal as you are,” he says when asked if he has a message for the society.
“The earlier a child (or adult) enters a rehabilitation programme, the better the chances of coping with his/her disabilities, and being integrated into mainstream education,” says Dr Beula. Co-curricular activities are included from the time they enter the centre, be it gardening, drawing, dancing, singing or yoga. Both Nagageyani (14) and Akhilesh (16) find peace in dance. They continued to pursue dancing even when they managed to score 9.2 and 8.7 CGPA respectively in the recently announced board exams.
While Akhilesh wants to crack Civil Services, Nagageyani wants to explore different options and doesn’t want to rest for one. “I don’t want to let blindness come in my way to achieve my goals,” she says. She expressed her regret over discrimination of the differently-abled in the society and more so about being a blind girl. She seems firm about her resolution to change the prevalent norms about the differently-abled. Both of them could not be more grateful to LVPEI for giving them a new life which taught them self-love, accepting the way they are.
The rehabilitation centre also employs their own students who were once clients of the institute. 28-year-old Aishwarya came in 2011 as a client and became a trainee in 2012. Completely blind, she did not let external situations deter her. Despite being rejected by various firms because of her blindness, she continues to work in the centre.
“LVPEI gave me a new life,” says Aishwarya with a broad smile. Upon asked about what changes she would like to see in the society towards the differently-abled, she says, “Don’t make me feel special or dejected. I don’t want to be a subject of inspiration or sympathy as well.” The rehab centre continues to strive to support people like Aishwarya and others throughout.
The summer camp concluded a week ago with the hope that the next year would be even more rewarding and path-breaking. The centre also plans to arrange more such camps during other times of the year as well. The next one is a winter camp later this year.