A Rotaract club for blind students in Pune

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The members of RAC Divya Zhep on a trek up a fort near Pune.

Giving shape to the aspirations of the visually-challenged, a new Rotaract club was chartered exclusively for them in Pune. All its 26 members are students of Sir Parashurambhau College, Pune. “The new Rotaractors at RAC Divya Zhep, of which two are physically-challenged, are talented and have big dreams. The Rotaract platform will not just enhance the leadership skills in these students but, also make them part of an international community,” said Vinay Patil, president, RC Pune East which has sponsored this one-of-its-kind Rotaract club.

The Rotaractors will be given job-specific training based on their physical limitations and once they complete their graduation, “they will get employed and be able to support themselves economically,” said Patil. He added that sightless people face many social hurdles and the workplace is not friendly to them.

Samruddhi ­Bhalwankar, president of RAC Divya Zhep, is a poet, storyteller, writer and debater with a score of 88 per cent in language and arts in her second year of college. She has cerebral palsy by birth and is paralysed on the left side of the body. “But that doesn’t define me or will stand in the way of my dream to go to Germany and become a Sanskrit teacher,” she says confidently. She is excited about her Rotaract journey and is “looking forward to meeting new people, participating in meaningful activities and learning new skills that will help me build a secure future.”

During the induction ceremony in November 2021, the Rotaractors were gifted a white cane by the parent Rotary club. “It’s a meaningful gift,” says Rtr Yowraj Dalve, the club secretary. He recalls a time “when I thought that a white cane was a symbol of shame and failure. But now it has become the best tool for me to walk beside those with sight and become more comfortable being alone. Using the cane makes me feel powerful and in control,” he said.

DG Pankaj Shah (L) presenting the charter to RAC Divya Zhep president Samruddhi Bhalwankar.
DG Pankaj Shah (L) presenting the charter to RAC Divya Zhep president Samruddhi Bhalwankar.

The new Rotaract club is named after a group that arranges writers for the visually and physically-­challenged students during examinations at this college. The group has also started a library on the campus where volunteers read books to blind students who can also use the reading and listening software installed in the library computers, or read Braille books. “We wanted to give the disabled students an equal chance to participate in all the activities in the college. The objective is neither pity nor sympathy, but to treat them equally, understand their needs at a personal level and in certain cases learn from them,” says Prof Yogita Kale from the Arts department, and founder of the group. She is also the mentor for the new Rotaract club.

The Divya Zhep group organises trips and treks to various forts around Pune for its members. So, is it tough for them to climb? “Yes, but they want to experience their history lessons, especially stories about Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. They touch the giant doors, feel the surface, lie down on the floor of the fort and want to know how large the room is,” she says. Sometimes the group mentor narrates the stories again at the fort and they love it.

These special Rotaractors are trained in dance and also perform street plays on various social issues like road safety and hygiene. “With the help of RC Pune East, we are sure our student Rotaractors will be able to do and achieve more,” Yogita adds.

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