A call out for volunteers

If you have the time to spare and would like to help the visually challenged, join Lit the Light’s Read Fest-2020

“From experience I can say there are many people who do not know that they can volunteer to make the life of the visually challenged better,” says Barath S N, the founder of Chennai-based Lit the Light, a group formed four years ago to help visually impaired students across Tamil Nadu. The NGO is organising the year’s first ‘Read Fest’ in temple town to sensitise more people to reading and scribing for the visually challenged.

Read Fest – 2020 is planned like an exclusive reading campaign that will give an opportunity to first time volunteers to come together in support of all those who cannot see. “It will be an experiential programme for people who do not have exposure about the struggles of the visually challenged and are not aware how they can contribute,” says Barath.

The event will be held with 150 high school students of Indian Association for the Blind at Sundarajanpatty. The students will sit in a one-to-one reading session with the walk-in volunteers, who will read out portions from prescribed text books. “Both the volunteer and the student will gain from each other, the former will get an insight into the world of darkness and understand the need and importance of voluntary service and the students will have the benefit of learning and perhaps find a new friend too,” says Barath, who had conducted the first Read Fest in Chennai in 2018. The day long event there saw the participation of 1500 volunteers. He hopes the Madurai event too will see a good footfall and help to increase the band of volunteers.

He says the visually-impaired children study in Braille until the eighth standard. In later years, they require the help of others to read and then scribe for them in exams. For the last four years, his organisation has been sending out volunteers all over Tamil Nadu to help.

“But we fall short of volunteers as mostly college students and young professionals take out time on weekends and evenings to work with those in need,” he says. “Housewives is one category we are yet to tap fully. Though many people enroll as volunteers, not everybody is free on the day and time required,” he says.

Many volunteers help by reading the textbooks and recording audio files which are then played to the visually challenged students. “But it is during the school, college and public exams time that the requirement for volunteers spikes,” he adds. At present, there are 7,000 volunteers from Tamil Nadu enrolled with Lit the Light, of which 200 are for recording books. There are small groups in USA, UK and Bahrain as well who record the audio-books.

It all started when Barath volunteered for a reading session at the Poonamallee Government High School for the Blind, Chennai, in 2012. “When one of the students scored high marks in Class XII Board exams, it made me realise how little help can take them forward and it motivated me to help more,” says Barath. Along with his friends Ram Kumar, Sakthivel, Adhiyan and and Ravi K, he continued and the school scored centum results with 11 students writing the Class XII exam the next year. This led to the formal launch of Lit the Light in 2014 and today the coordinators assist the visually impaired by conducting reading sessions, recording study materials, arranging scribes, giving technology training and discovering hidden talents. They have also started a free browsing centre with Braille in Porur to help the specially abled in applying for higher studies and jobs.

“By helping, we can empower the visually challenged individuals,” says Barath and cites the example of Jothi, who became a playback singer after music composer G V Prakash gave her a chance to sing in the movie Adangathey. “We identified her talent in 2015 and made her sing on every stage we could get for her,” says Bharath. And she was spotted when one of her videos went viral. The volunteer-based service operates in Chennai, Coimbatore, Madurai, Vellore, Thiruvannamalai and Salem. The team is now working on creating a digital audio library. “We are covering books in different categories such as academics, motivational and competitive exam materials and will make the audio books available online so that visually challenged students can download it anytime and use it.”

The Lit the Light Read Fest-2020 is at The IAB, Sundarajanpatty, Alagar Koil Main Road. On February 15.

The next read-fest will be held on March 1, 2020, at Presidency College (opposite Kannagi statue), Marina beach, Chennai

If you are interested and available for volunteering, please contact the following numbers 9894949878 / 8056207601 / 6382331195

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