Every fifth blind person in the world is an Indian and 25,000 new cases are added to this population annually
By Mamta Aggarwal
He suffered from meningitis and became visually impaired when he was only 10 months old. Yet, fighting insurmountable odds, George Abraham is today not only living a successful and wholesome life himself, but is also working tirelessly to bring hope to the lives of other visually-impaired people. After a successful career with India's top advertising firms Ogilvy & Mather and Advertising & Sales Promotion Company for nearly 10 years, he is now a social entrepreneur, an inspiratiol speaker and a communicator.
Not only did he work towards changing the popular perception about the visually impaired, but as the Founding Chairman of the World Blind Cricket Council, he also conceived and organised the first World Cup for the Blind in 1998 to not just encourage them to have self-belief but to give wings to their dreams.
George's life has meaning because his parents refused to see his disability as being bigger than his capabilities. They made a conscious decision to send him to a regular school instead of a special one for blind children so that he could get to know the hard realities of living with blindness in a world of people blessed with vision.
"People suffering from blindness are regarded as 'pathetic' by a society with a skewed vision; they are most often denied basic opportunities. Their whole perso is just seen in the light of their blindness and no one even bothers to see them or their potential beyond their disability," George told IANS. "Every blind can be potential human resource to the society; so they shouldn't be just provided for, but must be invested in and empowered so as to eble them to live a dignified life."
Every fifth blind person in the world is an Indian and 25,000 new cases are added to this population annually.
George gives the whole credit for what he is to his parents and God. George's father M.G. Abraham was an engineer and architect, and his mother Sushila Abraham was a homemaker. "Usually, it is not only society which is indifferent towards the blind, but their families too view them as a burden. I was lucky to be born to parents who never saw my vision loss as a disability that can hamper my journey towards a successful career and wholesome life," he said.
George was quite content with this job, but visiting a school for the blind for the first time in his life in 1988, along with his wife Rupa, proved to a shock. He was shaken to the core by the miserable conditions of the blind people living there and the treatment they were given. "They were instilled with a mindset of being worthless to society," he recalls.
A visit to the tiol Institute for the Visually Handicapped, Dehradun, was another turning point in George's life. Coming across blind boys playing cricket with great passion, his long-forgotten dream got a fresh lease of life. They used balls that rattled. George, who grew up dreaming of becoming a fast bowler, decided — at that very moment — to organise a tiol cricket tourment for the blind.
"I realised seeing blind people catching the ball, hitting the ball with bat and chasing the ball can help break the stereotypical image of a helpless person wearing black glasses with stick in hand, and can create the image of an able and efficient person. Also, this sport can develop life skills like leadership, teamwork, discipline, ambition, strategic thinking — besides, of course, physical fitness and mobility."
Soon he organised the first tiol cricket tourment for the blind in December 1990. In 1996, he set up the World Blind Cricket Council and was its Founding Chairman. In 1998, he conceived and organised the first ever World Cup in New Delhi. The tiol tourments go on, the World Cup continues to happen and a new T-20 World championship too has been launched.
India won the World Cup in 2014 when it was organised in South Africa and followed it up by winning it again in 2018 — the event was held between January 8 and 20 in Pakistan and the UAE — by beating Pakistan by two wickets. This caught the imagition of the country. Cash awards were given to the players. The 2014 cup-winning captain Shekhar ik was recognised and given the Padma Shri.
"Blindness is not the real problem, it is the mindset of society and blind people themselves who are made to believe that they cannot lead normal lives,'' says George. He set up Score Foundation and Project Eyeway to change the mindset associated with the potential and capabilities of the visually impaired.
Eyeway is a one-stop knowledge resource on living life with blindness — it dissemites knowledge, counsels and takes up advocacy.
He then conceived a radio programme 'Yeh Hai Roshni Ka Karwan' which broadcast success stories of people who fought every hurdle that came in their way due to their blindness and achieved their dream. The programme spoke about people working in different areas like banks, the IT sector and in travel companies. "People began calling us with their problems and challenges. This led us to establish the Eyeway help desk where counselors who are blind took the calls. Till date we have addressed over 35,000 queries," he said.
Using television as a medium to share the message of his mission, he produced a TV programme ‘zar ya zariya’. seeruddin Shah — who played a blind teacher in the film ‘Sparsh’ — introduced and closed each of the 13 episodes. It featured 32 successful case studies from across India. The serial endeavoured to communicate the potential and possibilities in a life with blindness and to raise the burning question: Is the problem with zar (sight) or zariya (viewpoint)?
George remains determined to change the existing "zariya" and create an inclusive society where people don't separate "them" from "us". (IANS)