Published: 16th August 2018
Why Ashwini Angadi's Belaku is the school that every blind child wants to be at
This visually impaired girl runs a residential school for the visually impaired and it is free of cost. Next, she wants to open it for all the differently ablled students, finds Rashmi Patil
Just because you can't see doesn't mean you lack vision. The perfect example of that is 27-year-old Ashwini Angadi who has been visually impaired from birth. A popular person, her biggest claim to fame is that she is a global youth ambassador from Karnataka who works for the empowerment of differently-abled children.
Realising that a whole bunch of visually impaired youth like her should have the opportunity to study, Ashwini started a residential school for the visually impaired called Belaku Academy, "Initially, the school just had 10 children but has now grown to 35 students. I thought people with visual impairment should also study and become independent enough to get a job and earn their living. Hence, I started this school," she says.
Her name was included in the Limca Book of Records as one of the People of the Year 2016, alongside people like 3D Rangoli artist Bhaaavana Bhedaa
Ashwini now has plans to open her doors to children with other special needs as well. The school is run in a rented building near Magadi Road in Bengaluru and draws students even from the most remote villages of Karnataka. "We gather information about blind youngsters from the gram panchayats and this is how we prepare a survey report. After that, we approach their families to tell them what we can do for their kids."
Incidentally, the Belaku Academy is in no way less than any other private residential school in terms of infrastructure or technology. Students are taught computer and science experiments, and sports and cultural activities are conducted on a regular basis along with other academic studies. "When I started the school, I dreamt of making it very well equipped. That is why we have a separate science laboratory, a digital library and headphones for every child. This is aligned to their regular studies and braille books," she happily adds.
Listen up: Ashwini teaching computer to the students at Belaku Academy
However, Ashwini, who hails from a small village in Bellary, has not had it easy in life. She says, "When I was born blind, the acceptance of my disability was not so easy for my family. My parents were told that I will not be of any help to them. Thankfully, my parents were stubborn and didn't give up on me. They enrolled me in Shree Ramana Maharishi Academy for the Blind. After passing 10th grade, I joined NMKRV College for Women and suddenly the environment changed — because there were all people with normal sight."
The culture shock was tremendously stressful, "I thought of dropping out because it was not so easy for me. I would struggle with printed notes because someone else had to read them for me after college hours. I would end up studying five to six hours every day and most of the lecturers would not allow me to record them. The college lacked Braille books at that point in time, but now, my juniors have all the study materials they need as the professors and management realized it was important for the blind to be given equal opportunities."
Our disability should not become our weakness. Working hard until we reach our goals is the only way to make our dreams come true. People will ultimately see you as a normal person and they will surely accept you and your disability
Ashwini Angadi, UN Special Envoy for Global Education's Youth Courage Awardee
As she then graduated from Maharani's College of Arts and Commerce, she joined an NGO where she discovered that her voice held tremendous power. And that it could be used for change. As she began to address international forums and talk about the needs of the differently-abled, she was among the seven young girls who were honoured with the UN Special Envoy for Global Education's Youth Courage Award, part of the Malala day celebrations in July 2013. She was also among the three people from India to be honoured with the Queen's Young Leader Award in 2015. The award was given to her by Queen Elizabeth II. All the fame helped her with getting funding to make Belaku come alive!