After retirement, majority of the people prefer a peaceful life. Some take rest at home, while some go on pilgrimage. But two sisters of Ratnagiri district in Maharashtra, Asha Kamath and Pratibha Sengupta, have defined ‘peace’ differently. They found ‘peace’ in the uplift of visually challenged children. By starting a residential school for such children in a remote village they are busy in discovering their hidden talents and making them self-reliant in all respects.
Lakhs of people retire every year in government sector alone. Majority of them prefer to live a peaceful life. Some take rest at home, while some go on pilgrimage. But there are people who define the ‘peace’ in their own way. Quitting the lavish lifestyle full of luxuries in Mumbai and Pune, Asha Kamath and Pratibha Sengupta marched on the red-soiled track of Konkan to set an example for the retired people. They both are retired teachers and are now engaged in discovering and shaping the hidden talent of visually challenged children in a highly remote village, Gharadi, under Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra. Their efforts have changed the meaning of life for such children.
With 7.8 million visually challenged people, India accounts for 20 per cent of 39 million blind population across the globe, of which 62 per cent are on account of cataract, 19.7 per cent refractive error, 5.8 per cent glaucoma and 1 per cent corneal blindness.
With a strong desire in the heart to work for visually challenged children, Aashatai and Pratibhatai chose a backward village of Maharashtra, where even the parents of visually impaired children do not want to care for them. However, there were already various schools in Konkan, but none was exclusively for visually challenged. Life of such children was trapped either in the cage of too much love or too much hatred at home. Their life was dependent upon others. Education was just a daydream.
These two sisters played an angel’s role in their life. Due to their initiative, today these children can study, their fingers move on keyboards of computers to enjoy the music of life and they have become brave enough to cross the crests and troughs of life. Although they cannot percept through eyes, their sense of touch is very active. They can read and write through Brail language. Pratibhatai herself prepared over 70 books in Brail script. Now under her guidance these students are also producing such books.
With an initial strength of four, the school was opened in the year 2003. Initially, the school functioned in the house of these sisters. Later, with the better economic support from various organisations and donors, the school building was constructed in 2007. A total of 34 students are studying at present under the guidance of five teachers. Classes are conducted up to VII standard. This year the classes up to 9th standard will begin. The school begins with prayer. After the initial study session, the children go to library and read various books written in Brail. After the afternoon tea, sports activities are held. Blindness does not become a hurdle in the enhancement of their sports skills. In the evening, they study sincerely and after studies they enjoy music. Their musical skills are very sharp and hence a special attention is paid to rectify them through proper and timely guidance. Most of them are good performers. Vocational training is also provided for manufacturing show pieces, incense sticks, etc. Computer training is also given. The school also boasts of an orchestra team.
There is one more reason behind selecting Gharadi for this project. Ashatai and Pratibhatai are five sisters with no brother. Gharadi is basically their nanihal—the village of their mother’s parents. The attachment with the village remained active whenever they went during service. A part of their property in the village was also used for the project. At the initial stage they had to face many difficulties. Indeed, money was a cause of concern, but the fight against the dark clouds of ignorance and superstitions was no easy. Majority of the people in the region are farmers and economically deprived. The education level is also very low. In such circumstances motivating them has been a very difficult task.
Discharging her duty as headmistress, Pratibhatai looks after the entire educational activities, while Aashatai manages the activities of the Trust. Children are nurtured with great affection and they are made self-reliant by making them realise the importance of their life. Career awareness has now been created among them. They have become matured enough to choose right type of trend so as to get a smart job in future. Their thought process has been catalysed.
Talking about the objective of the project Ashatai says, “Light is a hope of existence but unfortunately some of us are deprived of it. Black is the colour of their life. But we can definitely bring joy to their lives and make the life colourful by blooming lovely fragrance of flowers in their lives, lending them a hand of hope, optimism and friendship, encourage them to cross any hurdle in their life, tune their lives with melody and acquaint them to the music which is the essence of life. So let us join and exchange love, care and get motivated with enthusiastic spirit of the visually impaired and enrich each other’s life and spread joy in the world. The only thing that brings smile to their face is people’s support and motivation.”
Generally, people, after retirement, seek rest. But Ashatai became restless after retirement. She was fed up wasting time in parties or meeting people. She had good contacts in the society because her husband served in the army. She had the burning desire to do some constructive work. “I get peace in this work. I feel some of the visually challenged children are very brilliant and a minor touch of encouragement can act as a catalyst in their life. I do not need any award for this work. I am doing it for my own people,” she says while talking to Organiser.
There are so many problems in the society. Since the retired people are both qualified and experienced, their experience and energy can be utilised for eradication of many problems. “If somebody really wants peace in the evening phase of life, then serving the needy is the best way,” adds Ashatai.