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Educating and Empowering India’s Poor and Visually Impaired

By: Anika Tasnim Nishat

· Asia,Europe,Education,Human Rights,Health

Millions of poor people do not have access to basic education. Moreover, poor people with disabilities are often not taken into account. As a result, people with disabilities have to face a lot of trouble in asserting their right to education.

Talking about equality requires considering everyone in society. This is why Sightsavers has been working actively with visually impaired people to give them access to education and empower them through introducing assistive technological innovations to make their life easier than ever before.

Sightsavers’ Story

Photo by Sightsavers

Sightsavers is a UK-based international organization that aims to defend the rights and needs of visually impaired people. Not only do they have a vision to eradicate avoidable blindness from society, but also an insightful desire to give visually impaired people access to education which they are mostly deprived of. It has partners in over 30 countries all over the world.

India in particular, has the largest population of blind people in the world. Sightsavers has been working across 13 states in India since 1966 where they strengthen organizations and communities in supporting the treatment of millions of people who have eye-disorders. They have educated, counseled, trained and rehabilitated people and helped extend the reach of eye services to the least served areas of India.

The Power of Education

Sightsavers believes education for visually impaired people should be given great importance. Through educating blind people from less-privileged communities, Sightsavers believes it can empower them. Blindness will no longer be a barrier for anyone in achieving self-reliance if their right to education is protected.

The organization has been running its ‘Inclusive Education Programme’ for the past two decades. It is one of its major initiatives in promoting education for the blind. The program is being run in five states namely Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and Rajsthan. The key objective of this program is to enhance learning outcomes of blind children through mainstream education.

They believe that when children with disabilities participate in mainstream education on an equal basis with other children, they learn from an early age that they are equal and valued members of society. They remain in a normal social environment, are no longer isolated, and participate more actively in general community activities throughout their lives.

Photo by Sightsavers

On the ground, Sightsavers aims to promote a positive and enabling environment in schools, families, and communities to support the holistic education of children with visual impairment. The organization has developed a self-learning resource pack on inclusive teachings and classroom practices where teachers can engage children on their own with minimum training or support. Sightsavers has started an intervention within the program to reach out to visually impaired children and training them on using Information and Communications Technology as a means to enhance learning outcomes. Children have been provided and trained on using tablets and Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) players with the help of a state level ICT resource center set up in collaboration with the state government.

Another program by Sightsavers is Vidyajyoti- School Eye Health Programme that intends to address eye health issues prevalent among children in government schools within the age group of 5 to 15 years. Their major aim is to ensure that good eye health is achieved and maintained, contributing to improvement in learning outcomes for all children attending government schools. Under this programme, Sightsavers provides refraction, teachers’ trainings and awareness camps in Government schools.

The core concern of all the programmes directed by Sightsavers is to help people with visual disabilities empower themselves in a way which would allow them to earn by their own. Dependency on the others restricts their possibilities and capabilities. So, the ultimate aim is to empower their condition through giving them access to education to protect their future in a sustainable manner.

Future Prospects and Strategies

Photo by Sightsavers

To grow bigger and reach more stakeholders in an effective way, Sightsavers communication department manager Mrs. Rishibha Gupta shared their future goals and prospects. She says, “Sightsavers in India will function through scaling up experiences and activities to the district and state level through advocacy with the State, providing technical assistance, capacity building and monitoring support to other districts and to other NGOs, creating a momentum for change, actively involving affected persons – People With Disabilities (PWDs) and Children With Disabilities (CWDs) and their families – in the process of change.”

She furthermore added that Sightsavers is planning to adopt an approach of system strengthening in its programmes, viewing all entities – government, private, NGO, community, individuals - as an integral part of the system and seek to strengthen the system in a holistic and sustainable way.

To deliver the optimum level of help to those vulnerable, blind, and visually impaired through ensuring good eye-health and achieving access to education, Sightsavers has identified some of the least-privileged regions that need greater attention. They are the states of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, MP, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and West Bengal. These eight states are where Sightsavers is intensively engaged at both district and state level to bring about positive change.

Challenges

Photo by Sightsavers

Although the identification and school registration of visually impaired children has managed to overcome its difficulties through extensive efforts given by government and NGOs, there are many gaps and challenges such as shortage of resource teachers who can cater the demands of the children. However, the government-specified ratio of three teachers per block is inadequate. Poor quality inputs, curriculum that has not been adapted to their needs, use of inappropriate teachings, retention, etc., are some of the key challenges that need to get addressed. Moreover, there is a need to upgrade the environment for assisting the learning of visually impaired children.

Supports and Sponsorships

Sightsavers has developed a partnership with Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan, ICDS programme/ NHRM, municipalities, State governments across India and signed memorandums of understanding with different state governments that enabled them to start and sustain their projects.

Moreover, they have both corporate and individual donors. The organization works closely with many companies to develop effective relationships. They get assistance from donations and services that directly generate immediate impact to the work such as medical equipment, logistical support, media coverage, or financial services.

Achievements and Awards

On March 14, 2018, a prestigious HCL Grant 2018 of 5 million INR (over 700,000 USD) was given to Sightsavers for their extensive work on Inclusive Education. Over 3,000 NGOs applied for the grant and Sightsavers went through a rigorous process to maintain a position in the top three (Education Category).

The organization is also associated with the European Union and other partner organizations for the project, Building Partnerships for the SDGs — Empowering Disabled People's Organisations. The project will not only strengthen 15 Disabled People's Organisations across 5 Indian states to advocate for their rights, but also allow them in improving access to government development schemes and entitlements — such as equal job opportunities, decent work conditions and equal engagement in the democratic process.

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