Guiding Eyes For the Blind - Jyothi Goud talks with You & I

True to her name, Jyothi Goud is literally the guiding light to many visually impaired children. She is a humanitarian, who remains undeterred of her commitment to provide world-class education for them through the Devnar Foundation. We caught up with her to learn more about her work.

How did the idea of establishing a school for the blind get started?
My husband Padma Shri Dr A. Saibaba Goud, is an ophthalmologist, running the Saijyothi Eye Institute. Back in the 1990’s, many parents consulted us for their blind children; some were blind by birth and others lost their sight later in life. Although some could regain their vision, many would suffer in darkness. The torment that those parents experienced shook us. They would be in tears, deliberating their child’s future. That was when we decided to establish an organisation that helps the blind. Incidentally, we were visiting the US for a conference on childhood blindness around the same time. This was 25 years ago, but we still couldn’t help but take notice of their advanced technology, computers, and equipment that aided in teaching blind children. That was when we were resolute of our decision, and launched an English medium school here. We named it the Devnar Foundation.

What were the challenges you faced in the initial stages?
People were not supportive of the idea of establishing a school for the blind. We heard many words of discouragement, such as “Doctor, you have many years of practice,” and “Why give time for a school?” So we thought that if we failed after launching the school, we would simply drop it. We finally founded the school in 1992 with four children in a rented room. We used to conduct camps to bring more children to enroll in the organisation. After a few years, what brought children was the change that other parents noticed in our students. Gradually, the strength increased to 550. Today we are the biggest school for the blind in the world. Presently, all my senior children are settling well in their lives. A few work in a bank, some are probationary officers, CA, engineers, and a few are working in other multinational companies, apart from some national players in chess and cricket. Another is a professor in Delhi.

Are there any memorable incidents you would like to recall?
It goes without saying that the good you do comes back you in a bigger way. Also, if you do something without expecting returns, God will surely help. There was one time when the cook came into my office around noon and told me that due to some reason, the milk is spoilt. Where would I find 40 litres of milk immediately? I thought that the best thing to do was to adjust without milk and curd for the day. After a while, we had an unexpected visitor.

He said that he passes by our school everyday, and decided to visit us that day. Because he did not want to meet us empty-handed, he gave us the bags that he carried. The bags had 40 litres of milk in them! It was miraculous. We were spellbound.

I would also like to share that a Sri Lankan Minister visited us recently and thoroughly convinced with the school, wanted to start an exchange program, wherein a few children can get trained here and go back. Same is the case with South Africa.

What are the teaching methods that you use?
Our school follows the state syllabus. We typically use braille for the students, but I want to specially mention about our ultra modern computer lab. Just as other school children start computer education from the sixth standard, the same is the case with us. We have installed the world’s best software. If the students want to check the newspaper or read books, the software will read for them. If they make spelling mistakes while using the keyboard, the software will prompt them. We do not compromise on providing the best facilities to our students. All the materials and equipment are equivalent to those of regular school – or even better.

We also recently started a voluntary training programme for adult blind people. The programme teaches candle making and disposable cup making.

What are the future plans for the organisation?
We have big dreams for our students. We want to do more for them and want them to do much more for themselves. My husband wants to launch a polytechnical college for the blind so they can pursue engineering. We have been diligently trying for approvals for the past five-six years. It becomes extremely difficult for the blind to break society’s social taboo. Sometimes, even their own parents blame these unfortunate children for being visually impaired.

Society should change. It’s nobody’s fault for being that way. Impairment isn’t with the child, but in society’s thoughts. We are supportive of our children and always attempt to boost their spirit. We know that they are capable of conquering the world.                 – as told to Sumana