Choosing to be better and not bitter is the success mantra for some people who despite getting a raw deal in life are making an impact on society. MONIKA THAKUR catches up with these changemakers on the sidelines of The Sanawar Leadership Programme at the Lawrence School
Blind girl shows the way
Vidya Y — The VISiONARY
Young programmer Vidya Y, founder and trustee of not for profit organisation, Vision Empower (VE) in Bengaluru, is changing the way visually challenged students have access to knowledge today.
Born to Yella Reddy, who runs an agricultural business and Pushpa, a homemaker, on September 9, 1993, in Attibele village on the outskirts of Bengaluru, the one bright spot in the 24- year-old’s life was that her village had Jyothi Seva School — a school for visually challenged children. Things smooth-sailed till Class VIII. Jyothi Seva didn’t have the staff to teach higher classes, so Vidya took admission in Attibele Public School (not for visually challenged) 60 km away. The higher studies school for the visually impaired was too far away for Vidya to travel daily.
“The shift was not easy and I faced a lot of hardship. Being a visually impaired child, it was next to impossible for me to grasp things that were explained by teachers on the regular blackboard. Taking exams was another issue. I needed a junior student to write my exam. They would draw a diagram on my hand. But I couldn’t understand a single thing,” Vidya recalls. So she decided to teach herself and never gave up despite the road-blocks.
In Class X, she scored 95 per cent and wanted to take up Science with Maths, which she was denied by the education department of Christ Junior College. She then opted for Commerce in Class XI because this was the only way she could do Maths, her favourite subject. To get admission in a technical college — she wanted to pursue Computer Science — was not easy. Her cousin helped her with an admission to Christ University, Bengaluru. She was the first visually challenged student at this university. She went on to do her post-graduation in Digital Society Program from the International Institute of Information Technology Bengaluru (IIIT-B).
Though she was a Gold medalist, she couldn’t get a campus placement. “I was asked to take up a job under the reserved category. Such reservation related jobs didn’t see my potential. I found myself with no job despite topping in my college. But this didn’t deter me and my resolve to give back to the society took root,” Vidya says.
Though there are tools to help the visually impaired learn, there was no technology or a way out that could help decipher diagrams that are important to subjects like Maths and Science. Vidya decided to venture out on her own and create content that is accessible in a diagram format as well through her NGO.
Her organisation now produces content in the form of audios and e-books. But their ground-breaking work lies in creating 3-D models that will help the visually challenged to feel the model and understand the shapes and working of various diagrams.
“These 3D models are important as every model can’t be felt in 2D. We tried out these models at The Sanawar Leadership Camp recently with great results. Plans are afoot to showcase our products in other States as well. The good part is that all the theoretical content is produced in audios and e-books; for the diagrams, we are creating 3D models to help understand concepts that can’t be understood theoretically,” Vidya says, adding that a major challenge faced by the visually impaired is the society’s attitude towards such people.
“People stereotype the visually challenged and have an ‘oh so sad’ attitude. I wanted to take up Science and Maths but was advised to do Arts because that is what any ‘visually impaired’ child would do. In India, around 39 million people are visually challenged. Less than 50 students have studied Maths and Science at UG and PG levels. One can see the magnitude of the problem and it is this attitude that I am battling and becoming the person that I am today — a self-made person,” Vidya, who is involved with the research at her company, says.
“Studying Math and Science is important as these subjects help a child develop a scientific bent of mind. Also, through these subjects one discovers new technologies which can then be used to advance scientific knowledge,” Vidya says, who studied programming because she wanted to learn the technology.
At Vision Empower, her work is all about research rather than programming. Her research found out how out of 45 schools for the visually challenged, only one offers Maths and Science till Class X. The condition is the same in other States.
What keeps Vidya on track is the sessions that she has been taking from her spiritual guru Rishi Nityapragya, who has helped her gain confidence. This has helped her handle any situation and roadblocks that comes her way, and many do.
“Earlier, it was too much work, too much stress and a lot of clutter. This frustrated me. But with meditation and my guru, I can see my path clearly. I have never been as excited about my work as I am today. The people I meet in the course of my work help me learn and grow. Satisfaction of a job done well keeps me going,” Vidya, who is also working as a researcher with Microsoft, tells you.
Teen with goals
Monika kumari — The young achiever
This resident of Ranchi in Jharkhand is an inspiration for other 16-year-olds in her school, The Yuwa School. Meet Monika Kumari, the goalkeeper who has made headlines for getting selected to play at the Donosti Cup in Spain and the Subroto Cup in Delhi. But it is her selection at the elite Real Sociedad coaching academy in Spain which is the crowning glory of this Class XI student studying Biology, Economics, History, Business Studies and English under the IB Board.
Her journey as a footballer began when she was just 11 years old and her elder brother introduced her to football. To join football, there was a rule — a boy had to bring four girls along with him. “Three girls from our colony agreed. But he was still one short so I filled in. Though I was part of the team because my brother wanted to learn the game, Football started fascinating me. I loved it so much that if I missed even one practice session, I would be miserable,” Monika recounts.
Another added advantage of learning football was that the English language classes were exclusively held for the football students. Monika enjoyed these classes and as soon as the Yuwa School opened in her area she took admission there.
Such is her passion to play the game that Monika today earns money from coaching children football. This money goes to pay her school fee. “My parents don’t pay the school fee; I do, from the money that I earn through coaching,” says Monika who joined Yuwa School when she was 13.
Though she is in a happy zone today, there were several challenges that she had to face. Most girls in her village studied at the Government school where they were considered to be a burden especially the girls who were expected to finish their schooling up as soon as possible so that they could get married.
“It was difficult to convince all my family members that I wanted to study and not get married, as was the norm. I had to constantly remind them that I had dreams and a goal to achieve. Not getting married was the biggest challenge,” Monika tells you.
This was not all. To play football, she had to wear shorts but the villagers insisted that she wear salwar-kurta to practice. The boys would tease her and pass comments like ‘Ladka banney chali hain’. She was even threatened with ex-communication if she continued to play. But nothing deterred Monika.
Her school gave her all the support and encouragement she needed. It conducted workshops for the girls where they were taught a lot of things other than the game. “My teachers made my parents realise how important education and football was for me. With time and my progress, they were convinced. It was the recent trip abroad that changed my parent’s viewpoint totally. It made them realise that even though I am a girl, I can make them proud. They realised that I have so much more coming my way,” Monika says that sharing her present path.
“The best part about my job is the 5-10-year-old girls I teach. I get to learn a lot from them. They are my family now. If I ever feel angry or frustrated, I talk to them and all the anger vanishes,” Monika tells you.
Her day starts at 3:30 am. She leaves home at 4 am for practice which gets over at 7:30 am. Her school starts at 8:30 and the last bell rings at 3 pm. That is when she coaches the little girls till 7 pm and studies. Once her father is home, she cooks a meal for the both of them, studies and calls it a day at 11 pm.
Her father, Mukesh Prashad works as a bodyguard at Apollo Hospital, Ranchi. Her elder brother graduated from Premchand High School. The younger brother is in Class IV, the eldest sister is a banker with HDFC, Kolkata. Both stay in Kolkata with their mother Gyanti Devi.
Recalling her experience of playing Subroto Cup in Delhi and Donosti Cup in Spain, Monika tells you that there is a huge gap in the quality of sports in India and a country like Spain. “The coaches in Delhi were a bit abrupt. They did not treat the players with as much respect. But I got to know what my mistakes were and helped me better my skills as a goalkeeper. I went to Spain for training and learnt a lot from them too about how to teach football to others. Women athletes in other countries are way more expressive, comfortable and free as compared to the Indian athletes. This is one area where we should concentrate on,” Monika opines.
Her message to young athletes: “Girls should be educated about their rights. The society needs to understand that getting a daughter married off should not be the priority. Parents should give girls the freedom to choose a path. Education is necessary for every individual. If you are not educated, you can’t become a better human being. The Government should conduct workshops for raising awareness among women about their rights,” Monika says.
‘Thinking big but starting small is success mantra’
amit bhatia — The COach
His family came to India as refugees from Pakistan in 1947. All their property was left behind. The father remained unemployed for a long time so he worked as a coolie to feed his family. But the family took the birth of son Amit Bhatia on June 8, 1958, as a good omen.
Today, the 60-year-old is CEO of Impact Investors Council who has committed himself to a social cause. “Growing up in a lower middle-class family, I would often wonder if a time would come when I would be able to pay back for what India gave me and my family. We were homeless and penniless when my family crossed into India,” Bhatia recounts.
Both his mother and father worked hard to make a good life for their children. His mother found a job as a teacher in a Government school and his father retired from a clerical job (secretary to an officer). The idea that Bhatia must give back to society made him reach where he is today. It took root while he was growing up.
He did his schooling from Mount St Mary’s School and stood first in his school with 82 per cent in Class XII. The good percentage meant that he got admission at Shri Ram College of Commerce, New Delhi, where he studied Bachelors in Commerce. For his Masters (M Com), he enrolled with the Delhi School of Economics and emerged as the university’s Gold medalist. He also finished his Master of Philosophy in Delhi School of Economics.
“I remember my parents would save money by commuting by public transport. They never bought a vehicle even when they could afford it. They saved the money instead, so that they could give us a quality education and we could study in a private school,” Bhatia tells you.
Early in his career, Bhatia taught at Venkateshwara College as he wanted to be a teacher. “I started off as a lecturer but couldn’t accept the politics that came along with the job. The usual theoretical and monotonous pattern of the university had not changed over the years. Meritocracy was another factor that lead to a career switch and took up a corporate job,” Bhatia says. He stayed there for 11 years moving up the ladder but there was always this need to do something good for the country, especially for the rural youth. That is why he left the corporate world.
The journey thus far has been gratifying for Bhatia. More so, after he started working for Aspire which trains rural youth to get job-ready. The organisation also trains students from privileged backgrounds in value-based leadership and partnership. “The idea was not just to work with the vulnerable but also the privileged ones who will go on to lead the country. While they are young, we can plant a seed of value-based leadership in them. We have been recognising young talent every year. These achievers accompany us for leadership events like The Sanawar Leadership Camp to inspire others,” says Bhatia who turned a social entrepreneur.
However, to reach where he is today has had its share of challenges and setbacks. Bhatia took up the first job in 1991 when India was just opening its economic doors to the rest of the world. “I came from a modest household and the real test was to be able to stand up with confidence in front of the rest of the world without making a fool of myself and let India down. The world was throwing opportunities at us. We had to grab them and be ready to take on more.
“I remember when I joined my first job I had never sat in an aircraft or made an international call. The education that I had been given was great but it was all theoretical. The education in other countries like the US and the UK is practical. They make sure that their students are ready to face the world with confidence. I may have had a masters degree, it didn’t prepare me to deal with the business world the way I needed to be.
“What I needed was command over spoken English and how to deal in a globalised environment,” Bhatia says. He recounts when instead of saying ‘Africa’, he pronounced ‘Afreeka’ in front of a room full of people.
He also tells you that, in life, there are no short-cuts. He attributes his success to being genuine and a sheer hard worker. There are a few rules that one must abide by, to be successful.
“First, never pretend to be what you are not. We should always be grounded. Life will throw great opportunities at you and the mantra should be to not get carried away. Second, one should have the ability to take risks and be bold in front of others. Thinking big and starting small is what all the entrepreneurs should aim at,” Bhatia states.
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