From Darkness to
Iris C F Gomes
The most of the Western world has made great strides in altering the lives of differently abled persons. While India has laws and schemes in place, not all differently abled people are aware of their own rights and the opportunities they can avail of. In many cases lack of dissemination of information is a huge impediment, and at other times it is corruption and apathy.
Stacy Rodrigues is the only visually impaired artist in Goa and in India at this time. Her impairment stems from a progressive disease, heredomacular degeneration, which was present at birth. This remained undetected for years until she was in the sixth standard and had to visit the doctor owing to her left eye being injured by a cricket ball. The ophthalmologist discovered the white patches caused by the heredomacular degeneration. During the period the disease remained hidden, Stacy suffered caustic remarks and even corporal punishment from her teachers when she could not keep up with the rest of the class. There was disbelief from her own family who were not quite convinced her complaints had any bearing.
The confirmation of Stacy’s condition was not the end of her problems as she had to deal with disdain and mockery from many quarters. The saving grace was her time in Carmel Higher Secondary School where teachers and fellow students were equally keen to help her. Choosing a career became a hurdle since so few mainstream courses being able to accommodate visually impaired individuals. Then there was bullying from fellow students at the Goa College of Music which she joined. Other attempts to find a suitable occupation were met with disillusionment. Her brother rescued her from deep depression by motivating her to join a gym. There Stacy came in contact with Donavan, her gym instructor, who led her to discover her creative side and in the process discover her choice of a career. Stacy decided she wanted to become an artist.
Having found her place in the world, Stacy feels the need to help others like her who may not receive compassion and financial support. Her heightened sensitivity towards issues faced by visually impaired persons arises from her own experiences. In particular, her attention is focused on the National Association for the Blind in Goa.
Though the National Association for the Blind (India) or NAB is a nationally recognised entity, its presence in Goa is hardly acknowledged. The National Association for the Blind (India) was established in 1952, principally due to the efforts of Mr Mangulal Jethalal Shah. There are branches all over India in different states and districts. The aim of NAB is to allow visually impaired people to find a productive role in society in a manner that they can earn a livelihood and gain unbiased acceptance based on merit. The visually impaired are provided education, training in various courses and defended against the violation of their rights.
Stacy visited NAB, in Santa Cruz,Goa, because she had a friend who was learning Braille there. She says, ‘Nobody knows the importance of such places. It’s too late for me now. Even if I’ve not received anything, I felt I should give back something to the place.’ Stacy understands the value of offering this sort of support to differently abled children who are often hidden away from society unless their parents are well educated, and aware of facilities that offer courses and recreational activities for their children. Their lives remain empty and unfulfilled when they possess the intelligence and capacity to overcome their disability and make something of themselves.
NAB in Goa is given little coverage by the media and so publicity is limited to a small column highlighting certain NAB related events. ‘Very few people in Goa know about NAB. In places like Bombay people do know. And students in Bombay are doing quite well. I met a lawyer who studied at NAB (Mumbai),’ says Stacy. Her friend is now employed with the Art and Culture Department in Goa and this proves the worth of a non-profit organisation such as NAB.
The biggest problem NAB (GOA) faces is the lack of funds. Stacy’s research reveals that about two or three of the children have their parents giving NAB the government money that is due to their visually impaired children. The parents claim that the organisation has no right to these funds. So how is NAB (Goa) supposed to survive? People donate food, books, etc. The government does its bit too, but it is not sufficient. Leena Prabhu tells Stacy that by God’s grace help comes when we need it the most. Nonetheless, this is a precarious financial situation to be in.
Stacy vouches for the management of the organisation and says that the 25 odd students who reside at the centre are treated well with good food and living in hygienic conditions. ‘They have a cook who caters to the needs of the students,’ she says.
‘There have to be more than those 25 odd visually impaired students in Goa,’ says Stacy, ‘Think of the others who aren’t getting help because there are no funds and because people don’t know about NAB.’
As a solution to this problem, Stacy proposes the creation of a foundation to act as a channel to supply funds. There is also the promise of funds from another NGO, but the primary concern that remains and that may derail all plans is the fact that parents have access to funds for differently abled children because they are required to hold joint accounts with the children till they are 18 years of age. Right now they are working on a way around this. ‘Money given to NAB (Goa) has to be monitored too,’ says Stacy. She plans to jumpstart her foundation by holding an exhibition of her abstract paintings next year to fund NAB (Goa). Right now she is occupied with trying to collect money to organise the exhibition which is proving to be a strenuous task. The undeniably enthusiastic Stacy says, ‘People always hesitate to donate money towards these sort of projects. But I’m hopeful. Everything will work out in the end!’