February 13, 2016 4:55 pm | | Leave your thoughts
An afternoon with MADHU SINGHAL and her living dream Mitra Jyothi. Madhu Singhal is a visionary. Though herself visually-impaired, she incessantly strives to usher light in the lives of the physically challenged.
She enjoys the work, notwithstanding the hurdles.
“Every day, I have something to learn something new to see.”
How did Mitra Jyothi begin ?
Mitra Jyoti started in the year 1990 in Bangalore. At the time there were not many opportunities for visually impaired except for working as a telephone operator. I was not interested in that and I wanted to do something more. My brother in law gave me lots of encouragement to do something. I started making pen pals with other blind people .Then we came across this idea of forming a trust. We did not know what we will do under this trust. But within the 3 years I made a lot of friends, many who had disabilities. I also felt that while I had been fortunate enough to get a good e
ducation, many people had no education at all. This is how Mitra Jyoti came into existence looking at education, training and employment.
“I wanted to do something in my life. I did not want to sit at home.”
What is Mitra Jyothis mission and vision?
We believe that all persons with disabilities have the potential to become independent and given the right opportunities, to achieve their goals and play a useful role in the community.
Our mission is to assist people with disability to become independent by making them aware of their rights, providing them with an enabling atmosphere, designing training programmes, supplementing their educational needs, and placing them in suitable jobs.
What are the key milestones in Mitra Jyoti’s journey?
Talking Book Library which we started in 1992 is very popular with our audience. It has a stock of over 4000 master cassettes on topics in a variety of subjects. Not many books are available in Braille. Also keeping books in Braille at home is very cumbersome—they are very voluminous because the paper used for punching is very thick. Our library helps people to borrow books and return them, so that others can use it too.
Today audio master cassettes and CDs are recorded by volunteers representing a cross-section of society; a recording studio at Intel helps the company’s employees to record at their convenience. The recording is now done in DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) format. “Today’s applications possess advanced features to help the visually challenged to navigate to the desired page,” Ms. Singhal comments. Thanks to JAWS and other screen-reading software, she is able to check and respond to e-mails on her laptop.
As a woman I find that parents are very protective towards visually impaired women. But I feel we have to be able to live our life independently. So in 1997, we started the Independent Living Skills Training for Women. But what should people do after being trained? They hardly ever found jobs. We need our economical independence. There was a big need for job placement. So, Mitra Jyothi started a placement cell. We started placing persons as garment unit helper, assembler—-any job that required routine kind of work. More than 600 candidates have been placed so far.
Started in 1999, the Braille Transcription Centre converts books required by visually impaired or low-vision students into Braille. Books are printed on request. Majority of these books are textbooks for students. “Apart from audio books, Braille books should be provided at least till primary level,”explains Ms. Singhal, adding, “This enables the children to learn spellings and inculcates a habit of reading and writing.”Mitra Jyothi also sells Braille devices in collaboration with National Institute for the Visually Handicapped (NIVH),Dehradun, a central government body.
Are you working with Corporates ? What has been the relationship ?
In 1999, our placement officers contacted several companies. Out of 40-50 companies they approached one or two would call back. IBM was the first to call us, and they still have some visually-impaired employees. The result is very low, compared to the amount of work that is put in by our placement officers. With support from IBM, the Computer Training Centre began in 2005. Now all courses are in technical collaboration with EnAble India, states Ms. Singhal. “Altogether 117 visually-challenged persons have gone through the long-term Career Centric Computer Training Basic course,” she continues. Apart from training in computer applications such as Windows,Office and JAWS, it covers English communication and soft skills. Field trips to banks, etc., are an integral part of the course. Moreover, short courses are conducted on basics of computer, and browsing on Internet.
As a woman entrepreneur, what problems did you face along the way?
At first I did not know what to do under the trust we had formed. But along the journey we met people and found a lot of support. There were challenges such as going to slums, interacting with people and raising funds to help people. Going out and talking and negotiating with people was always a challenge being a woman. But I took it in my stride and worked relentlessly. When someone approaches me with his/her problems, it triggers my thoughts to find a solution, to plan a new venture. It keeps me going, encourages me to move forward,” she responds when queried about her source of inspiration.
What are your views on NGO governance ?
10-15 years back no one knew what an NGO meant. But now it is fashionable to call oneself an NGO! I think most corporates now understand the kind of work done by NGOs. But it will take a little more time for layperson to know what the scope of an NGO is. NGOs need to be more well-connected to each other. Now, we are not just working for Mitra Jyothi but for an issue. Personally I am very interested in networking. I am a member of the Asian Blind Union, the World Blind Union—–what I feel is that if Mitra Jyothi does not have any placement for a person, we should at least be able to guide that person the to the right place or person who can help.
So we need to network a lot. I believe we must have a lot of partnerships instead of just working conservatively for just one NGO. We are misusing things. Like we are doing a lot of duplication.I dont know where to start to form this network. And if we can have common policy, a common way of looking at things then we can learn from other NGOs who have done a similar thing
What advice/tips would you give to women entrepreneurs?
I think god has sent everybody here for a purpose. I think every women has huge potential within her to achieve greater heights. It is only the need to identify the inner beauty which lies within you. Disabilities are just blessings in disguise for you to achieve the purpose you are here for. The challenges women face in business are nothing but hidden opportunities for you to rise. Just go out and explore your dreams with confidence and you will see that the people you meet in this journey will help you realize your dreams…Tags: Madhu Singhal, Women Entrepreneurs
Categorised in: Inspire