It the year 1981, Shalan Chavan came across a newspaper ad for a school which was looking for a teacher. The school was none other than the Victoria Memorial School for the Blind in Tardeo, Mumbai which is one of the best schools for blind children in Mumbai.
At the time, Chavan was unaware that there was a school for blind children in Mumbai, when she went for the interview she saw how the school ran. When she encountered children who were blind, she thought about how people who are sighted feel when they closed their eyes for a few moments. These children can’t see at all, how would they feel. She then decided that she wanted to work for the betterment for the blind.
She started teaching at the school as a physical training (P.T.) teacher. After three years, in the year 1984, she took the special training required for teaching blind children.
After this she noticed that blind students were given a normal education and their dietary needs were being met with. But they were not allowed to or were not given an opportunity to do something different. So, Chavan felt that even these children should be given a chance to explore their talents. That is why she began teaching them how to dance; she also employed a dance teacher. She taught them how to sing and encouraged sports like Mallakhamb and other additional sports.
She also took them to auditions for programmes of reality shows and gave encouraged them to participate in it. Due to all of these activities, the blind children gained a sense of self-confidence and they were motivated to pursue what they liked. They felt that they could do whatever they set their heart to. And began participating in such events.
When people at the school began to observe her, they saw that she had an intense passion and interest for helping these children pursue their dreams. The other teachers felt that she had a natural flair in teaching and interacting with the students. They then began to give her more responsibilities at the school.
Finally, in the year 1994, she was appointed as the principal of the Victoria Memorial School for the Blind.
While speaking with My Medical Mantra, Chavan said, “These children have heard about our festivals but they have never experienced or celebrated it. That is why we began to celebrate the festivals in our school. So that the children understand what are these festivals and why do we celebrate them.”
She added, “Initially, the parents of blind children feel that their kids are not capable of doing anything and they lose all hope. But, we tell them about the success stories that we have had from our institution. We tell them that even this child is blind, but they have achieved so much. parents then feel a renewed sense of confidence that their children can be able to do anything that they want to. With this new hope, they send their children to our school.”
She further said, “Parents also have doubts about how school life will be. What is the cost of admission, what is the fee structure like etc. And how will their children be taught at the school. We clear all their doubts so that they can make an informed decision about sending their children to our school.”
Chavan informed us that the school advertises itself through platforms such as radio, newspapers and other mediums, so that they reach out to the parents of blind children and make them aware of it.
All human beings have abilities, we also have our strengths and weaknesses and we must do our best to build on the strengths that we have.
Chavan said, “People are often amazed how talented our students are. When we see them triumph over trying circumstances and find a way to live with independence and dignity, it is very gratifying for us.”
On Monday, November 03, Chavan who is now a 58-year-old woman, will be retiring from her profession. She is now 68-years-old and has over 38 years of teaching experience to her name. She is saddened that she has to bid farewell to her students who have become like her children over the years.
Overwhelmed with emotion, Chavan said, “For these children, we are everything for them. At one time, we play the role of their mother, father, brother and sister. This feels like family, now that I am retiring I feel that I am moving far away from my family. I wonder what will happen to these children once I leave. I am worried and concerned for them. But, I have no option as I am retiring. But in the near future, if these children require my help I will surely come to their aid. If they need to find a job, or have certain government work, or need a disability certificate to show their workplace, I will help them as much as possible.”