Natasha Trivedi Mumbai, September 24 Nestled in a lane in crowded Dadar is the 116-year-old home of close to 170 visually impaired girls from all over the country. A school that was started originally as a relief shelter for boys and girls who had been blinded in the devastating famine in Solapur in the 1880s, the Kamla Mehta School For The Blind now continues to house, and provides education to visually impaired girls right from pre-primary to Class VII. The school was founded in 1900 by social worker Anna Millard with the American-Marathi Mission, upon being moved by the plight of the children struck by famine.
“Initially, this institution was started in a 10×10 room in Byculla; it was just a shelter. Slowly, the instruction of education was added,” said Nalini Ahivale, the current principal. Gradually, apart from reading, writing, and math, she said other useful crafts also came to be taught to the children. “It started out as a co-ed shelter, but then was converted into an only-girls one,” she added.
In 1920, the school was given a plot of land by the government so that it could accommodate more students, and that is where the institution is located today. “In the course of time, the trustees have changed frequently. It was given its current name in 1986,” said Ahivale.
Mostly, due to lack of funds, the school has passed through the hands of several trustees, and is currently being looked after by the Maharashtra government which provides a fixed fund for every girl every month, buttressed by donations from private individuals.
Even though most of the girls studying in the school are locals, many from around Maharashtra and also Madhya Pradesh seek admission in the school. “There is no other criteria we follow except that the student should have a blindness level of 60%. Otherwise, there is no discrimination whatsoever,” Ahivale explained.
Currently, the school is considered one of the best academic institutions in the country for the visually impaired. “The syllabus the girls are taught here is exactly according to the syllabus taught in regular schools; just that here it’s in Braille. Our students move on to regular schools for the last three years of SSC, and compete on equal footing with everyone else,” Ahivale said proudly.
The school offers its students training in various skills like music, dance, home science, and boasts of amenities like a language lab, a gymnasium, a hobby centre and a library. “It’s important to have an institution that doesn’t restrict its students based on their limitations. Here, the students are encouraged to learn every possible skill they show an interest in. They aren’t held back because of their disability,” said Ahivale.
Currently, there are at least three teachers who have been students of the institution themselves, and who have taken up jobs as teachers here to give back what they got. Recently, the school was visited by Union Minister for Human Resource Development Prakash Javadekar on September 17 on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s birthday. “He attended demos of teaching methods and activities that the girls excel in, like malkhamb and writing. He was quite appreciative of the efforts that are girls put into learning,” said the principal.