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How I Overcame Barriers In Education As A Visually Impaired Student!

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My name is N. Vahneichhi, and people call me Vah Vah. I am a blind student from Mizoram and am doing my graduation at Christ university, BGR campus from the city of Bengaluru. 

Today, I am truly grateful to share my journey and hopes in life with you. I was born in 2000 in a village called Tuisih in the district of Siaha. I spent most of my early childhood days with my grandfather, who was a pastor for about 17 years. He would always show me the right ways that lead my life even today. 

I would just like to take a moment to give credit to him since he passed away last June. I will always miss him and follow the ways he taught me.

I lost my eyesight when I was about 8-months-old. Given that I was born in a village, my early childhood life was mostly lonely. I had no one to play with because I could not go where others would like to. Rather, I felt like I used to be considered a burden.

Anyway, this is just how I felt as a result of the way others treated me, which, somehow, affects my personality to date. Also, one other reason for me being a bit secluded (apart from my disability) maybe that our house was located at the hilly part of our village where I would stay home alone, while my grandparents would go farming day-in and day-out. 

Those days, there were only three institutions where persons with visually-impairments could have joined to study, and unfortunately, the number has now decreased to two for boys and only one for girls. 

I joined a school at the age of 6. It was 2006 when we got a letter advertising the Moriah Blind School in Aizawl, the state capital. On receiving the first letter, my mother refused to allow me to stay away from my family. However, when the second letter came home, my grandfather was able to persuade my mom into letting me go to school after he gave her a lecture about my future. 

Mom would tell me how Grandpa had explained that the pain of the present could be the gain of the future, and how I would just be like another burden for her in the future if not educated. Not only that, but he also spoke about how I may take care of her when she gets older if I am educated and get work. I would remember my grandfather telling me that he was unable to eat or drink for about two weeks when he dropped me to the blind-school at that time.

Picture of Vah Vah, the author of this article
Vah Vah, the author of this article.

I regret that he wasn’t with me even before I could tell him my result in the 2nd semester. I have been studying from grade 1, all the way till grade 6 in the same school. From grade 7 onwards till 12, I shifted to another hostel (the Salvation Army Home for the Blind), since in those days, this was the only hostel in the state to adopt the inclusive education model up until matriculation, wherein, we just stayed at the hostel, but also joint schools with sighted students. I did my grade 9 to 12 in St. John’s Higher Secondary School at Kolasib.

Actually, I would say that my journey in life truly started when I was in grade 7. That time, I began to think about where I stand and with my friends. One day, I overheard the comments of my classmates about me, mocking my poor English skills and discussing how I got the 13th position among the 15 students in the class. There onwards, my pride arose, a pride that holds me even today, which lets me possess an attempt to get a self-satisfactory position in everything I do. 

Starting then, despite receiving no textbooks in Braille (which is true even today), I started reading books voraciously. I brought books and a dictionary in class and read them every free period we got to improve my English. By the grace of God, I was able to finish matriculation at the first division and 12th in distinction.

I would remember the time when I was in grade 7, one of our seniors in the new hostel asked me my name in English. I just laughed back at him, because I had no clue what he said. That’s how bad my English was. Yet, after I read books voraciously with the help of dictionaries in class whenever I had free time, I felt more confident, and only by the grace of God, now I can confidently mix with others in Christ University, where I am the only person from Mizoram in my hostel. And more importantly, I gain some knowledge out of the practice. 

From grade 11 onwards, I really wanted Braille textbooks for visually-impaired students to read. In fact, I believe we understand how basic it is to get a textbook for a school-going student, yet receiving none. Thankfully, with the help of Dr Arun TIAS, who was the deputy commissioner of the district that time, and with the help from one of the priests (Brother George namely) in our school, we were able to get the textbooks on the subjects of English and history.

But, I am sad that students after my batch no longer have any textbooks for any more subjects. After I completed class 12 in St. John’s Higher Secondary School, I went to Bengaluru to prepare for further studies. I did a basic course on computers from Mitra Jyothi. While I was there, my local guardian suggested that I enrol myself in Christ University, wherein I am currently doing my graduation. 

There will always be a deep burn inside me when I think of all the bottlenecks blocking the way of many visually-challenged students in my state (especially girls). Till date, there is no properly-run Braille printing press. And, even worse, there are no textbooks in Braille for visually-challenged students. Because of this, I see many of my friends today stand in positions far, far lower than where they could have been. 

It has been my good fortune, the grace of God, and hard work put in by me and my mentors which has helped me reach where I am today. It is my dream to see other students with disabilities from my state not face the same hardships that I had to go through.

I hope to do some advocacy for my state so that the basic entitlements and rights for persons with disabilities are realised. To do this, I am working with the Javed Abidi Foundation (JAF), and with them, I have filed a Right to Information (RTI) Application. I have asked my State/Local Government for data on accessibility measures taken by them to make education accessible for people with disabilities. I hope I am able to achieve my goal! 

Note: This article is written by JAF volunteer N. Vahneichhi, who is a student at Christ University 

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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