Covid-induced darkness yet to dispel for the blind in Ludhiana

The Covid pandemic only amplified students’ struggles as the Vocational Rehabilitation Training Centre For The Blind in Ludhiana remained closed for eight months; meanwhile, donations dried away
The Vocational Rehabilitation Training Centre For The Blind in Ludhiana had ad to cut down on courses offered after the Covid pandemic due to dearth of funds. (Gurpreet Singh/HT)
The Vocational Rehabilitation Training Centre For The Blind in Ludhiana had ad to cut down on courses offered after the Covid pandemic due to dearth of funds. (Gurpreet Singh/HT)
Published on Nov 15, 2021 02:32 AM IST
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ByAneesha Sareen Kumar, Ludhiana

In the heart of the city stands a stately building, which at first glance appears to be an educational institute like any other. It is only when one parks the car and the guard objects saying “the students will not be able to gauge the presence of a vehicle at this point” does the realisation dawn that for the 100 students housed in the institute life is littered with unseen hurdles.

The coronavirus pandemic only amplified their struggles as the Vocational Rehabilitation Training Centre (VRTC) For The Blind remained closed for eight months. When the institute’s doors finally opened in January this year the strength of students had halved. “We have only retained 40-50% of our pre-Covid strength. Parents are still wary to send their wards to school,” says, director emeritus Sara Johnson.

“From 130, we are down to 65 students and are also facing an acute financial crisis. It is primarily younger students who have discontinued classes,” she adds. The centre runs with the help of funds allocated by the Centre and donations. However, Johnson said that the donations dried up after the lockdown was announced. “With people taking a pay cut, how will they donate?” she says.

The Centre, which also houses a hostel, was established in 1971 in a small room at Christian Medical College And Hospital, and shifted to its present location on Haibowal Road opposite Kitchlu Nagar soon after. Around 3,000 visually impaired students have graduated from the school, which offers classes till Class 12, over the last four decades, while 25,000 others have availed vocational training.

The centre’s alumni have been gainfully employed as professors in government colleges, assistant workers, clerks and at government-run banks among other avenues.

Vocational courses bear the brunt

Before Covid gripped the world, the Centre would run three one-year diplomas in computer training, telephone training and stenography, which were highly sought after as they helped the visually impaired get employed.“With the advent of mobile phones, the course in telephone training was discontinued, but computer training and stenography courses were quite in vogue, but sincethe centre reopened this year we have been unable to restart the courses due to lack of funds.”

Johnson says 50 students had been studying computers, while another 20 were learning stenography and short hand before the lockdown.”We still get several enquiries, but we need qualified staff and special equipment for the visually challenged, which is not possible under the current circumstances as we have barely managed to pay our staff with the grant we received from the Centre Once donations pick up, perhaps we can resume the courses.”

‘Was tough social distancing’

“When the lockdown was imposed last year, the school relied on online classes but it was not the same in the absence of Braille and teachers mostly took verbal classes. Hostellers from other districts and states such as Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, UP, Uttarakhand and New Delhi had to vacate the hostels. However, a couple of orphaned children had nowhere to go and special arrangements were made for them to stay on,” said a teacher.

With a staff of 11, the centre is understaffed.

However, hope soars in the form of a sweet melody as a Class-5 student, Keshav, sings a classical song, leaving everyone awed. “He wants to become a singer,” says his teacher, Maya, a former student of the Centre herself.

Strength of deaf, dumb students dwindles

A few metres away from the centre for the blind is the school for deaf students. However, it too is complaining of a reduced student strength. “Of the 145 students on roll, only 40 have resumed classes since we reopened after the lockdown,” says general secretary of the school Promod Dada.

He blames the increased cost of transportation for the low attendance. “We are no longer able to provide bus services. Earlier, students from far-flung areas would avail of the service. However, the rising price of fuel has made it untenable to run the service,” he says.

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Monday, January 24, 2022