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A record of care for the visually challenged

Vasudha Venugopal
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Ashwin Mahendra looks on as students use the multifunctional MP3s. — Photo: R. Ragu
Ashwin Mahendra looks on as students use the multifunctional MP3s. — Photo: R. Ragu

Every time his mother dropped a cheque in a charity box, he would question her, “How do you know they are going to use it the right way.” His mother would try her best to silence him, but 13-year-old Ashwin Mahendra, a native of Florida, had innumerable questions. What is fascinating, in this case, is that he is trying to find his own answers.

“I made sure there are just about a few buttons to make the use easy,” says the boy, even as he helps a group of visually impaired girls at Little Flower Convent, switch on the multi-functional MP3 recorders that he has brought for them. The students can record lectures to play them as many times while studying for exams, or even listen to songs or radio.

“Disabled people are very much independent in the U.S. But here, right from scribes, reading volunteers to helpers, there is much dependence on human intervention which prevents them from becoming independent,” says the grade VIII student, who believes in the reach of science and technology, and thinks music can work wonders.

Teachers and students at the school would vouch for it too. “Often, people interested in donating food come to us. We ask them to leave the food in the office to be distributed later. It is very rare we have people donating useful aids to students, and making sure they know how to use them,” says Sister Margaret, principal, Little Flower Convent for the Blind.

For the past five days of the seven that he spent in India, as part of his thanksgiving break, Ashwin, fighting jetlags, has been spending a lot of time in the school training the teachers and students to use the devices. “Once the teachers are trained well, the devices will be put to best use. They can directly download educational software too in these devices. I have loaded a few, and suggested useful links.”

This trip was no mere whim and has its root in a visit to India three years ago, when his grandmother told him how deprived people with disability are in India, Ashwin felt he needed to do something about it. His parents encouraged him in ways more than one, including bringing him here for a week, but the finances were entirely his efforts.

“Over the last three years, every Christmas, every birthday, has been very special to me. I have been saving up for this day,” he says. Additionally, every A+ scored in a test meant that his parents gave him $10 and such savings came up to $1,400, with which he got about 70 devices for the teachers and students of the school, each costing Rs.5,000.

His father lets the son do all the talking, but the gleam of pride is very visible in his eye. “I grew up here but there is nothing that I have done for this country. I am glad my son is doing his bit,” says the technocrat from NIT Tiruchi, who settled abroad 25 years ago.

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