Updated: Jan 18, 2019
"You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think!"
- Winnie the Pooh
I have worked with The Potter’s Earth for the past two years. Through this time, I’ve interacted with thousands of students, parents, teachers and schools. No two students are alike, just the way no two teachers or schools are. But last week, I had the opportunity to meet a unique school with a unique mission and students like no other.
Krishna, an eight year old boy, loves cake. He loves school too and his favourite subjects are computers, art and craft and story-telling. He speaks 3 languages (English, Hindi and Marathi) and loves playing cricket with his friends. His parents work in a factory and he loves that he lives in boarding school. When he sat across the table from me, eating cake, he had this brilliant smile across his face as he spoke of his friends and admitted to bunking class sometimes to walk in the garden behind the school. He wants to grow up and work in the Armed Forces. Krishna is also blind.
India is home to 15 million of the 75 million blind people in the world. However, to the students and residents, The Pune Blind School and Home for the Blind Trust is a small world in itself. Started in the year 1934 by a practicing eye specialist, this school in Koregaon Park is currently responsible for the education and up-skilling of 298 students. Their vision is to fully integrate their students with the outside world as independent members of modern society.
I spent my Sunday afternoon at the school talking and interacting with these students. They were super excited about the Wada Pav they’d eaten in their snack break (a general school fav) and spoke to me of their school, activities, classes and teachers. Sundays were also a general favourite because it came with story telling and TV time (approx 80% students are not 100% blind and have partial sight). And in my interactions with them I was taken aback with what I learned and realised from their experiences.
1.“Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” – Dr. Seuss
These kids have a different perspective on life. They are taught vocations and skills that will help them lead a normal and productive life. However, the general understanding we had from the staff was that a lot of the children’s parents had little to no hope about their child’s future. Their kids however, were out to prove everyone wrong. Instead of talking of futures where they were dependents and liabilities or ‘handicraft making blind people’, they spoke to us of adventure, travel and social purpose. Instead of the standard doctor, engineer, lawyer ambitions I had heard only too often before, I heard words like teacher, civil servant, soldier, translator, racer. This only made me think of how they (who were taught only to fit into normal society) didn’t want to fit in, but stand out, be heard and make a difference. A lot more than I can say for the so called ‘normal’ kids we work with daily.
2.“The best way to change the future is to create it.”
– Peter Drucker
Through my research on the Pune Blind School and in talking to the administration and staff, the one prominent thing that came out was how passionate they were about changing the lifestyle and future of each and every one of their students. And a big factor to affect this change is the teachers. Hence (to my surprise), the Pune Blind School also trains teachers. Because these teachers cannot use conventional methods of teaching, it was interesting to understand how their training encouraged creativity, innovation and different teaching tools and strategies. Apart from subject matter expertise, these teachers are taught how to handle difficult questions from students and parents and even in a few cases, counsel them on their problems.
3. “We see things not as they are, but as we are.” – H.M. Tomlinson
How often do we regret that hobby we didn’t pursue? Or that person we couldn’t meet? How often, do we regret the lack of exposure to different cultures, people and places? This however, didn’t seem to be the case with these kids. When I handed one of the senior students a cup of tea, he responded with a ‘Danke’! And when I asked him how he knew the word, he told me the story of a German man who had stayed with them for a few months and brought the joys and experiences of Germany with him. What surprised me was how much these students got to interact with the outside world. They had regular workshops conducted by a variety of organisations, students from different backgrounds and people with vast experiences. They went out of school for excursions, picnics and field trips to learn about a variety of industries and sectors. They played sports tournaments and in fact had a famous orchestra and band consisting of school students!
What I realised as I was driving away from the school was not just how unique, committed and socially aware these children were but also how much we (so-called normal people) took for granted.
The man on top of the mountain didn’t fall there. He climbed there with hardwork, dedication and a passion. And these were a few traits I found in abundance amongst these children and I cannot wait to see them on top of their mountains!