When Wajid and Rafia, visually impaired siblings from Tilegam Pattan, stepped for the first time in the Blind school at Dewanbagh Baramulla, their withered faces glowed. The only Blind School in the entire north Kashmir has brought a new lease of life for these kids.
Hailing from a downtrodden family, the brother and sister, aged 13 and 11, were born blind. Their father Abdul Khaliq, a tailor by profession, too is handicapped. Disability has crippled this family of five members.
The blind school at Dewanbagh Baramulla, affiliated with the Northern Federation of Blind Kashmir, has come as a blessing for both Wajid and Rafia. They have now started to believe that they too can live a dignified life like other kids. The visually impaired students enrolled in the school are from different districts of the valley which includes Baramulla, Kupwara, Anantnag and even Srinagar.
"After joining this school I came to know that a lot of people in India who are visually impaired are occupying good positions in the administration," says Wajid. "There is even a separate quota in the Government jobs for disable persons." Wajid wants to pursue higher studies and hopes that his disability will not be a constraint.
Like Wajid and Rafia, some 18 more visually impaired students are enrolled in the institute. The institute is providing both boarding and lodging facilities to the students and is taking care of their day-to-day needs as well.
Established in April, 2012 by Haji Muhammad Yousuf Khan, a resident of Vezar Wagoora, the institute is imparting education in Braille system. The two teachers employed in the institute are trained in Braille system of education.
"The idea of establishing a blind institution came to me some six years back when I saw a blind man struggling to cross over a road," says Haji Muhammad Yousuf Khan, the founder of the Blind school. "That changed my life and I decided to dedicate my life for the benefit of such people"
Haji Yousuf carried out an extensive survey from 2008-2012, and after four years of survey he identified 357 blind people in the age group of 20-40 and 35 kids in the age group of 7-14. "We registered all the 357 identified blind with the social welfare department so that they could get benefits from the centrally sponsored schemes," he says, "and for 35 kids, we started a blind school."
The two Braille trained teachers in the school are trained in the National Association for Blind, Faridabad and Haryana. They too are blind and feel the pain and agony of visually impaired people. Nazir Ahmad Dar, a trained Braille teacher from Pattan, says all the students are eager to learn in the institute." Their aspirations are same as that of normal people," Nazir says. "However, they need special care and special treatment. I too am blind and can feel their pain" he says.
As per the school records the 20 visually impaired students enrolled in the school have different degrees of disability. And some of the students, if provided the right treatment, can regain their vision.
Seerat, a 7-year-old girl from old town Baramulla, who is enrolled in the blind school, hopes to recover from the blindness if special treatment is provided to her in any of the reputed eye institutes. The girl has around 60 percent disability and better treatment can revive her vision. "Seerat can regain her vision however the treatment will require huge money," says Haji Yousuf. "If financially sound people will come forward, she will be able to see the world," he says.
The management of the school, apart from imparting education to the students, is making efforts to help in the all-round personality development of the students.
"We are planning to initiate a Disposal plate project and an apple box project, where disable people would be employed so that they don't become a burden on the society and can earn a living for themselves," says Yousuf.
Despite their efforts, the school management sometimes struggles to run the school smoothly. The monthly expenditure of the school, with 14 staffers, is around 1.5 lakhs. According to the management the school is managing its daily needs through public donations as there is no assistance from the state Government.
The casual approach of the authorities towards this Blind Institute has disappointed the management of the school."Leave alone financial assistance, the authorities could not even find time to attend the inauguration of the school," says Yousuf. "We made several representations to the officials, informing them about the inauguration, however, they failed to turn up for the inauguration," he says.