By Angela Walker
NARENDRAPUR, India, 16 November 2009 – Thirteen-year-old Mahesh Yadav’s fingers glide gracefully across the page in front of him. He reads aloud from the text – a Braille version of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
The self-assured teenager has come a long way from his earlier days when he had difficulty maneuvering, even in his own home.
Mahesh is among 180 boys receiving an education and vocational training at the Ramakrishna Mission Blind Boys Academy. The academy also trains teachers to instruct visually challenged children.
“I came to this school and learned how to walk,” Mahesh says. “I realized being visually impaired means nothing – we all have our own capabilities.”
Manesh’s education at the academy will enable him to one day go to university, where he wants to study Indian history and eventually teach.
“They gain confidence as they stay here,” says academy Principal SB Patnayak. “When they finally leave the school, they feel confident they can do something for themselves, their parents and society.”
Subroto Nag teaches a math class by the Braille method. He was born completely blind, came to the academy at the age of 10 and has been working as a teacher there for 15 years.
At the academy, the young boys improve their ‘tactile sensing’ in order to read Braille. To hel them do this, teachers have the students touch different types of surfaces to gauge whether they are smooth or rough.
In a huge study hall, the features on busts of Helen Keller, Mohandas Gandhi and other luminaries that line one wall have been softened, rubbed out by the boys’ fingers feeling their faces.
In the room, papier-mâché models of fruits and vegetables line a shelf along one wall so the boys can learn how to distinguish food from touch. Skeletons, toys and modelling clay are all available on shelves around the room for the students to explore.
CRC in Braille
With support from UNICEF, the academy has produced India’s first Braille version of the CRC in both Bengali and English. Copies of the Braille CRC are being distributed free of charge to schools for the visually impaired across West Bengal.
For boys at the academy, learning Braille and being able to read the CRC for themselves has opened up a whole new world. “After I came to know my rights, I made my parents and my peers aware. They should know we also have rights, and we can make a difference,” says Pankay Sinha, 15. “The CRC ... will reduce the stigma that visually impaired people face.”
The CRC’s four core principles are non-discrimination; devotion to the best interests of the child; the right to life, survival and development; and respect for the views of the child.
“The CRC recognizes that each and every child has certain inalienable rights,” notes UNICEF West Bengal Chief of Office Lori Calvo. “Having the CRC available in Braille means visually impaired children can learn and understand their rights for themselves.”