ARTICLE BY ARUSH CHANDNA, UK
Blind People’s Association (BPA): Temple of Optimism
I believe that, in the end, it doesn't matter how many breaths you took, but how many moments took your breath away.
I realized how your life can be changed in a matter of hours by people who don’t even know you when I first visited the Blind People's Association (BPA) located in Ahmedabad, a city in Western India. To instill such hope in people, to empower them to be self- reliant so that they can live a dignified life and to raise their self- esteem is nothing short of a miracle in my opinion
This wonderful charity to humankind started off in April 1950 as the Blind Men’s Association but has been known as the Blind People’s Association since 1998, a more gender-friendly name. Founded by Mr. Jagdish Patel, who, although coming from a wealthy family knew, was keenly aware of the problems the blind had to face. Mr. Patel had been blind since a very young age. He, along with a couple of kind hearted souls decided to establish this organization in a meeting that took place in 1947. The leader, inspirer and the philosopher in him fostered and guided the organization till the fag end of his life in 1999. Since 1973, BPA has diversified itself in helping not only the blind, but also people with all sort of challenges. Over the years, BPA has not only worked alone, but has joined hands with a lot of Indian and foreign NGOs in extending their outreach.
World without boundaries
It wholeheartedly welcomes with open arms every one, irrespective of caste, creed or religion. People from all faiths feel at home here. What fascinated me the most is how this institution inculcates in all the people who come here the belief, that life is worth living and this belief helps them create the fact. BPA offers help and solace to disabled people from all over the country. Never does BPA take a single penny from anyone who comes to seek solace or help in any form.
Today, BPA’s institutional services cover almost any kind of support that a differently abled person may need. They cover education, vocational training, professional training, educational services and rehabilitation services and also aids of all kinds to people who may require them. However, the administration is also involved in a lot of non-institutional work such as policymaking and advocacy at a very high level for those working for the benefit of the underprivileged. BPA has 6 rehabilitation and intervention centers, which help kids with problems ranging from autism to multiple problems such as deafness and blindness.
Rainbow of activities
Today, BPA not only trains the differently abled in conventional trades such as carpentry, weaving and chalk making, but also works on improving their soft skills so that they can become valuable assets for working in today’s competitive world. The organization runs 5 job-oriented courses such as The Dahiben Stenography Course for the Blind and The Shirin Cyrus Dalal Telephone Operating and Receptionist courses amongst others, both of which are supported by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. The training, which BPA imparts, equips the differently abled to stand on their own feet and become intellectuals who can compete with their more able counterparts, thereby adding more meaning to their life
Well, there are examples galore of unmatchable capabilities reflected by the fact that one of the students from BPA's Industrial Training Institute, which started in 1996 got selected as a receptionist at one of the best hotels of the city. Their training is so proficient that even the government amongst many other private institutions gives them contracts to make furniture items such as chairs, cupboards, tables. All this and donations from many philanthropists helps this institution to keep growing and keep extending its outreach to more people every day.
BPA has its own printing press where books in Braille are printed. They also have a library with a huge collection of books in Braille. Recently, BPA has also started video making in sign language for deaf people. The institute runs many
unique courses like a course on beautification for women, which empowers them to work in places such as beauty saloons or even start their own enterprise.
One of the prodigies to complete the course at Arti Mrugesh Doctor Hair and Skin Care Center is Ms. Purnima Dave, who lost the control of her lower limbs when she contracted polio at the age of
3. Today she is making housewives look beautiful by going to their homes on her moped.
The outreach of BPA has increased to 7.5% of the total disabled people of the state. This remarkable statistic shows how effective they have been in helping the necessitous. BPA starts teaching children from grade 5 onwards till the time they finish their school. For people coming from distant places, BPA provides a free hostel facility. BPA has been offering 25 major programs for decades. In my opinion, the greatest tragedy in life would not be not reaching your goals, but not having set any to reach.
BPA helps the disabled set goals and guides to achieve them. A good example of this is how BPA helped a partially blind boy get into the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Bangalore, which is amongst the most reputed institutes of the country and the world for business studies.
Ordinary dreams, unordinary dreamers
It is really heartening to listen to the stories of the people who teach here and their students. "I love coming here because I get to hold someone's hand and help him or her,” says Mr. Mukesh Rajput who has been teaching carpentry at BPA since the past 28 years. "I am still far from being what I aim to be, but with GOD's help, one day, I shall become what I want to be" was what Megha, who is partially blind and has been doing a Telephone Operator's and Computer Programming course since 1 year at the ITI told me when I asked her if this was it for her.
Another really inspiring story is that of Rajendrasingh Jat. Rajendrasingh's father died before he came into the world. His
mother toiled very hard to make ends meet. She went to people's homes washing vessels and doing domestic work so that she could provide at least a basic education to her dear son. However, tragedy struck one day just as Rajendrasingh was growing old enough to start earning. He was crossing an unmanned railway crossing when a speeding train flattened him. The next time Rajendrasingh regained consciousness was months later in a hospital. He had lost both his legs and his mother during the time he was in hospital. His fiancée also left him after this tragedy. His life was in shambles but, being a wise man he soon realized that no matter how bad your heart is broken, the world doesn’t stop for your grief. With belief in his heart, he went to the Jaipur Foot Centre where they refused to accept him since he was an amputee. He was sent to BPA where he arrived in tattered and torn clothes. Even the welfare officer at BPA broke into tears when she first heard this from Rajendrasingh. BPA was where he found his foothold. He was given a place to stay along with four pair of clothes and an opportunity in the tailoring shop. Rajendrasingh settled well, made many friends and also started helping in washing the linen of the BPA hostels. Today, Rajendrasingh works at a Tailor shop.
At the end of the day, either you control your attitude or it controls you and his optimistic, hard working and persevering attitude has earned them all luxuries of life and a smile that can inspire the most depressed person in the world. It is people like them, who actually understand the help, which this organization offers.
These people are living proof to the fact that the happiest people don’t necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the most of everything they have. It’s a valuable lesson to be learnt by each and every one of us.
Strength/Pillars of BPA
In my opinion, it would be fair to say that BPA’s employees are one of its main assets for it being such a respected organization today. Everyone at this temple of compassion greets you with a smile, something that touches core of ones heart. Over the years, BPA’s efforts have been awarded on numerous occasions. Along with BPA, the efforts of its employees have also been celebrated on numerous occasions.
Since 1982, the institute’s efforts have been commemorated no less than 7 times. They have won many prestigious awards including the International Golden Award for Community Development Services Overseas from the Help the Aged International in 1991, the Barrier Free Environment Award in 2005 and The Godfrey Philips Silver Bravery Award in 2007 amongst others.
These awards go only a small way in testifying the greatness of this ‘ashram’, which has offered solace to so many and still keeps doing so. For I believe in Mother Teresa thought: ‘We feel poverty is only being hungry, naked or homeless. However, we fail to realize that the poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty’. To relive people of the poverty of being uncared, unloved or unwanted is in my opinion, one of the greatest achievements anyone can ever achieve.
1. Blind People’s Association Official Website. www.bpaindia.org
2. Blind People’s Association Official Newsletter
3. Blind People’s Association Annual Report 2009-10.