Snehankit Helpline celebrated its 18th Annual Foundation Day on 25th August 2019 at Chhabildas Boys School Auditorium in Dadar. It was the week before the start of Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations and it seemed like the entire city had come out to celebrate the Foundation Day with us!
In this atmosphere of gaiety, the celebrations started with Ganesh Vandana by Master Prabhat Kumar Sahoo who followed it with a Marathi devotional song. Even though Marathi is not Master Prabhat’s mother tongue, he sang beautifully and with perfect diction. Ms Drishti Gaba, alumnus of the Dombivali Centre sang a sweet Welcome song in English, welcoming the one hundred plus strong audience that had assembled for the celebrations.
The Chief Guest Dr Vandana Chakrabarti, Guest of Honour Dr Rashmi Fadnavis and other special guests Mr Chindalkar, Mrs Leena Deosthale, Mr Arun Purandare, and Dr Kishor Bambardekar were welcomed by the staff and volunteers of Snehankit with a small token of appreciation. They along with the donors and trustees of Snehankit lit the ceremonial lamp to make an auspicious start to the occasion. Mr Raman Shankar as the Emcee for the evening conducted the proceedings with wit and humour.
A few words by Snehankit Founder, Ms Parimala Bhat
Our Founder Ms Parimala Bhat addressed the audience and spoke about how the years have flown by and today is the 18th Foundation Day of the organisation that started in 2001. She said her dream was of an organisation that would help blind students from Maharashtra and all over India as much as possible to become educated and independent. Snehankit started with audio projects first with the objective to do the things that others were not doing. Snehankit started with converting guide books and competitive exam books to audio format. This would be of immense help for blind students who were otherwise at a disadvantage when it came to exam preparation, especially competitive exams. Another advantage of audio books is that those who don’t know Braille could access these materials and blind parents could help their children with school work. Paritai appreciated the volunteers who work day and night to record the books and have them ready in time for the students.
Snehankit later added Braille Books Printing to its offering spearheaded by Raman Sir and Mr More with a small Braille Printer. Now volunteers are trained on Braille Data entry so that they can produce books for Snehankit. The technical excellence of this small band of volunteers, their dedication and sincerity was applauded by Paritai.
More recently, about two and a half years ago, Snehankit Helpline started the Dombivali Centre as a resource and special education centre for the blind students there. The centre offers programmes and academic aid to children from 2.5 years of age upwards. Mrs Pallavi Shankar and Mrs Sampada Palanitkar are doing a stellar job of teaching the young students using tactile aids, said Paritai. There is a demand now for more such centres in other parts of the city as well. Snehankit hopes to reach out to donors so that we can create more such centres.
Snehankit has started getting requests for help from blind students and parents from other parts of the country too. Efforts are on to help them in various ways.
Paritai also outlined the workshops and training programmes on various topics like legal, finance, computer literacy organised by Snehankit. In addition, Snehankit also provides medical and educational support to needy students.
Paritai ended her speech with her hope to add more technologically advanced services, such as a Talking Books studio where young blind children come and listen to stories in an immersive environment and an advanced and larger Braille Printing Press so that many more projects could be taken up by Snehankit.
The summary of the Annual report for the Year 2018-19 was read out to the audience on behalf of Ms Parimala Bhat by Ms S.Nandajanani.
Special Programme for the evening
One of the highlights of the evening was an interview of the illustrious Dr Abhidha Dhumatkar by Ms Anagha Modak.
Dr Abhidha Dhumatkar is the Head of the History Department at Parle Tilak Vidyalaya Association’s Sathaye (Degree) College at Vile Parle, Mumbai. She has a PhD in History from Mumbai University and is the recipient of the Charles Wallace India Trust Research Fellowship for doing Archival Research in London. She can speak and write in 15 languages. Her story is nothing short of heroic, for she was born blind.
It is not usually the case that the interviewer has an inspiring back story herself. However, our interviewer Ms Anagha Modak is an inspiration to many in her own right. She lost her eyesight at the age of 25 years as a result of a Dengue infection. She however, refused to let it slow her down. She was already an up and coming radio jockey. After her illness, she went ahead to host her own programmes not only on Radio but also on Television. She credits her family and her up-bringing for her courage in the face of the sudden adversity.Check our Facebook account for the details.
Presentation of Projects by Mrs Pallavi Shankar
Mrs Pallavi Shankar started with the successful training of volunteers on Duxbury Printing. Three batches have been trained. Pallavi Tai stressed on the need to learn Braille as it is the one thing that can give complete independence to blind students and professionals. Eight volunteers who have made Hindi Medium braille books available to students were felicitated: Mrs Sandhya Bhujang, Mrs Alka Chakradev, Mrs Swati Athle, Mrs Vaishali Arghade, Mrs Darpana Ramteke, Mrs Nilima Rane, Dr Chhaya Desai and Mrs Aruna Eklehere. They work in pairs specialising in certain subjects such as Maths & Science, English, Geography & Social Studies and Marathi & Hindi.
Next she spoke about converting physical text books into computerised formats so that students can use audio software to listen to them on their computers. This requires quite a bit of technical expertise to edit and annotate the books to make them usable on the computer. She invited Mrs Sangeeta Vinod to talk about the skills required and to invite more volunteers to come forward for this job. The editing team of 9 volunteers who sometimes work under tremendous time pressure to convert a book so it is ready in time for the student who requests for it, was felicitated: Mr Girish Gadre, Mrs Sangeeta Vinod, Mr Ashok Gupte, Mrs Ragini Rao, Mrs Suchita Khandekar, Mrs Sushma Mahashabde, Mrs Sandhya Bhujang, Mrs Nilima Rane and Mrs Anuprita Sheth.
Mrs Pallavi Shankar also gave a detailed presentation on the activities and achievements of the Dombivali Centre and the new programmes such as the Home Teaching programme and Pre-vocational training conducted. She called for more volunteers to take these programmes to a wider range of students.
Felicitation of Students
Students who have been successful in Std X and Std XII Board exams were felicitated and an award was given to each of them by the Chief Guests on the dais. The students were not only from Mumbai and Kalyan but also from various parts of Maharashtra, such as, Solapur, Ahmednagar, Pune, Jalna and Aurangabad.
The Guest of Honour
The Guest of Honour for the evening Dr Rashmi Fadnavis is an acclaimed Gynaecologist and Obstetrician who has been practising independently for over 40 years. She is the Head of the Department for Obstetrics & Gynaecology at Jeevan Vikas Kendra Hospital in Andheri, Mumbai. She has studied advanced techniques in surgery from Germany. She is an influential personality in the field of women’s health awareness. She has been invited to speak on Doordarshan, All India Radio and has also written for magazines such as Hello Doctor and many others. She has also written a published a book on health and nature in Marathi. She is also holds the post of Secretary of Lokamanya Seva Sanstha, a prominent service organisation in Vile Parle, Mumbai.
Dr Rashmi Fadnavis spoke about the infectious enthusiasm of Paritai and how she has created this family of 60 plus volunteers who are ever ready to accomplish the goals of Snehankit Helpline. She was impressed with the devotion, dedication and above all the friendliness with which the whole team goes about its work. She appreciated how Snehankit has made a difference by doing things that are different, be it converting Guide books for exams or Braille books in Hindi or introducing new devices such as Braille Me. She took note of the effort to take education out of the classroom to help the students learn how to develop skills and live life in a helpful, and complete manner.
She specially appreciated the centre in Dombivali and said all efforts should be made to have one such centre in the Western Suburbs too. She offered the support of Lokamanya Seva Sanstha, Vile Parle, where she is an office bearer to establish such a centre in Vile Parle at the earliest.
The Chief Guest
Paritai introduced the Chief Guest Dr Vandana Chakrabarti, who she said had so many accomplishments that it was impossible to have a short introduction for her. Dr Vandana Chakrabarti is Retired Pro Vice Chancellor of SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai. She is Former Director and Department In-Charge of the Department of Social Work at SNDT University. She received her PhD in Social Work from the renowned Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai. She also completed a Post Graduate Diploma in Education Management from SNDT University.
Her awards and recognitions are numerous. Apart from Gold Medals and Best Student awards for her undergraduate and post graduate studies, she won the National Merit Scholarship for MA, Smt Damyanti Morarjee & Smt Shantadevi Bhargava Memorial Prizes for standing first in PG Diploma in Education Management at SNDT University and UGC Fellowship for her Doctorate Programme.
Her professional awards include Tagore Literacy award, Bhaskar Karve Award for Social Work & Literacy Education and Fulbright Fellowship. Under her leadership the Department of Continuing and Adult Education in SNDT University won the NLM-UNESCO Award.
She introduced many new and unique courses at SNDT University including certificate and diploma courses in non-vocational subjects like Income Generation, Consumer and Information Rights. She has contributed to a number of books, case studies and articles in national and international journals. She has been commissioned by organisations such as UNESCO, SIDA, UGC, Government of Maharashtra, and National Literacy Mission-Government of India to conduct studies and projects on their behalf.
Having established that there couldn’t have been a more accomplished chief guest for the occasion, Paritai invited Dr Vandana Chakrabarti to say a few words.
Dr Vandana Chakrabarti opened her speech with an anecdote of how she first came in contact with Paritai in 2003. When she was Director at SNDT University, Paritai came to meet her. She was straightforward with her request: ‘SNDT University had excellent computer facilities, so what could they do for blind students?’ Dr Vandana was struck by the simplicity, positivity and optimism of Paritai and immediately offered the computer lab for running computer education courses for blind students. Many students completed courses like MSCIT and received certificates from SNDT. She said she has been watching Snehankit Helpline grow from strength to strength over the years and was very happy to have been invited as Chief Guest for the Foundation Day.
Dr Vandana commented on the infectious exuberance of Paritai and how not only is she highly motivated but how she motivates others around her to reach for the stars. This got a huge cheer from the volunteers in the audience. She spoke of the number of things she learnt from her interactions with Paritai and the visually impaired students over the years.
She spoke at length about inclusion and inclusive development. Everyone does not get equal opportunities to develop and that is something that needs to be corrected. There have been so many advancements in society and technology, be it transport or communications, but we must ask ourselves if everyone is being fully served by the advancements, she said. She impressed upon the need to make new technologies inclusive and make training and education available to adopt them.
She told the students that they were indeed very lucky that Snehankit was backing them, figuring out what needs to be done to ensure that their visual impairment does not become a disability. She called out to Paritai that her true wealth was the people she had gathered around her to do this great service.
She wished Snehankit Helpline and the students her very best for future endeavours.
Vote of Thanks
Before the vote of thanks another special guest Dr Vineeta Kelkar was felicitated and given a small token of appreciation.
Prof Utkarsha Lad Mallya thanked the Chief Guest, Guest of Honour, the special guests and the audience and students who had come from all parts of Maharashtra for making the 18th Foundation Day programme such a grand success.
No programme of Snehankit is complete without sumptuous snacks and hot tea. Our minds nourished by the feast of intellectual discussions and speeches served up on the occasion of the 18th Foundation Day of Snehankit Helpline and our bellies full of the delicious snacks, we left the venue to join the throng of humanity outside celebrating the coming of the biggest festival in Mumbai.