Paresh, our first visually impaired volunteer, worked with our partner organisation Mitra Jyothi as a trainer of trainers.
Placement : Trainer of trainers
Partner Organisation: Mitra Jyothi
“I felt this experience has taught me a lot in life especially that nothing is impossible, and to appreciate my life and what I have got.”
What motivated you to apply to AFP?
AFP is an organisation I appreciate for the work they do for India. The support they give to the local community projects are started by the communities themselves for self help and offers real hope, especially in the fields of education, health, employment, women’s rights or disability.
What were your fears and thoughts before you went out? What were your main concerns?
Before volunteering with AFP, I had never done volunteering overseas. I had done some volunteer work very locally where I live, in a Community Centre where I trained elderly people on how to use computers. My main fears and concerns were whether I would meet the host organisation’s expectations and whether I would maintain the standards set by other volunteers of AFP in the past. I was also concerned about communication at local level as the main language of Bangalore where I was posted is Kannada.
In addition to this, as a visually impaired person, I was also concerned about how I would manage the infrastructure and daily living while in India. This concern was soon resolved by AFP who kindly agreed for me to take a guide to look after my accessibility needs in India.
What was your role at Mitra Jyothi?
My initial role at Mitra Jyothi was of a trainer in Access Technology as well as to introduce measures for preparing visually impaired students to enter IT related professions. I also found myself carrying out the role of a consultant as well as an ambassador for the host organisation. I carried out a holistic assessment of the services of the organization and made some joint agreed recommendations. I introduced some new ideas and access technology that would benefit the students and the staff of the organisation as well as sister organisations.
Give us an example of what touched you/made you feel like your work was important
In the short time I spent at Mitra Jyothi, I felt so at ease, and the hospitality extended to me and Hiren (guide) was so warm and welcoming. When I carried out low vision assessments for the partially sighted students to identify how they could read and access printed materials or look at distant objects, the smiles and the excitement on their faces was beyond any words. Just by introducing them to a simple magnifier glass or an electronic magnifier they could make the most of their partial sight and this created the hope in them to do more studying or look for employment where they could work side by side with their sighted colleagues.
“I have merely scratched the surface by sharing my knowledge, my resources and my experience in the field of visual impairment with Mitra Jyothi.”
What do you feel you have achieved?
There were a number of immediate changes. I trained 20 students and three staff members on how to use a DAISY talking book player. They can now use it independently. As the host organisation already produces books in this format, it will encourage students to use this technology to improve their reading skills. The player will be placed in the library for students to borrow. Finally, I helped raise the profile of the host organisation by meeting with sister organisations, visitors to the centre, co-operations, disability organisations, journalists and reading volunteers.
I personally feel that all I have done is started the ball rolling in a football field and goals still have to be scored. There will be a lot of pursuing, negotiating and battling to reach the goal post. I have merely scratched the surface by sharing my knowledge, my resources and my experience in the field of visual impairment with Mitra Jyothi.
What advise would you give to other prospective volunteers? What about other volunteers who have visual impairments or other disabilities?
I feel that AFP has given me an opportunity which I would have never experienced before. As a visually impaired volunteer representing AFP in India, I felt that I had so much to offer and share with people at the host organisation. Yes, I had my fears and concerns about my own disability but I felt that if one has the determination and the support of an organisation like AFP one can achieve this. I felt this experience has taught me a lot in life especially that nothing is impossible, and to appreciate my life and what I have got. I would definitely urge all people especially those who are disabled and want to do volunteering but never had the chance/ backup, or want to go out there and do something that would make a difference, then go for it! There is nothing to fear and a lot to gain.