At the conference of social entrepreneurs organised by IIM Ahmedabad in November, where the work done by 20 social entrepreneurs was discussed, “the audience was mesmerised when a visually challenged girl and her teacher demonstrated the use of Sunetra, a lightweight, easy-to-carry device which can carry the content of up to 70 Braille books in audio form,” says PDG of District 3131 Deepak Shikarpur, one of the social entrepreneurs who participated.
“I spoke for barely two minutes about how District 3131 had gifted 200 such eBook readers to visually handicapped students, containing complete syllabus from class nine and class ten, and then handed over the proceedings to the student and her teacher,” he says.
He said that when he was District Governor in 2013–14, “we wanted to focus on helping special children and it was felt that visually handicapped children found it difficult to achieve academic excellence as studying from Braille books can be both cumbersome and challenging.”
So in consultation with the Poona Blind Men’s Association, this device was got ready and fine tuned to make it relevant and useful for the academic needs of visually handicapped children. Each device costs around Rs 12,000 and while the hardware is imported from Taiwan, the software for converting text to audio has been developed by a Rotarian free of cost. The third component is training as both the teachers and students have to be trained how to use this device.
About 200 special children in and around Pune have been gifted this device, and trained how to use it. “While working with these special children we learnt for ourselves that the sixth sense of these children was really well developed and they were able to grasp very fast how to use Sunetra to improve their academic performance,” says Shikarpur.
Other presentations made at this conference included the Jaipur Foot, Rickshaw Bank, Guwahati; Megh Pyne Abhiyan, Bihar; Aravind Eye Care System, Madurai; Honey Bee Network, Odisha; Awaaz De, Ahmedabad; Beyond Sight Foundation, Mumbai; Rural Relations, Pune; Skillveri Training, Chennai; Agastya Foundation, Bangalore; SEVA, Madurai; Centre for Public Innovation, Hyderabad; Aakar Innovations, Bhopal; Samhita Social Ventures, Mumbai; Gramalaya, Tamil Nadu; Eram Scientific Solutions,Thiruvananthapuram; Protoprint, Kolkata; Shelter Associates, NY USA; Basicshit.org (which works in street sanitation), Delhi and Diksha Foundation, Indore.
“Leading scientists who were in the audience appreciated Rotary’s efforts and sent us congratulatory messages,” says Shikarpur, adding that one message was from Padma Vibhushan Dr Raghunath Mashelkar who wrote: “It was such a pleasure to interact with the visually challenged children and teachers. Very satisfying indeed.”
Padma Shri Niranjan Pandya, a social activist working for the visually challenged, and Chairman Pune Blind Men Association also endorsed and appreciated this Rotary project.