46 year old Somarajan Pillai, who lives with his wife and two children in Allapuzha district of Kerala, went blind gradually.
Says Somarajan, “I used to work on a lathe machine in Mumbai. There was a slight problem in one of my eyes. When I had it checked, I was told to wear spectacles. But my eyesight continued to deteriorate. When I went to the doctor again, I was told I had a problem with my retina for which there was no cure. I was even admitted to a hospital, but again I was told that nothing could be done. In some time I went completely blind.”
Sightsavers’ partner, National Association for the Blind – Kerala (NAB – Kerala) supported Somarajan by providing him with a rehabilitation worker, Ani, to assist him continuously at work (see photograph).
“He was not interested in anything. He was completely down,” Ani says of Somarajan when she first started working with him. “His attitude was the first thing I had to change. He was just not willing to accept a lifetime of blindness. But slowly I have helped him rebuild his confidence. This started with training him in basic orientation and mobility.”
Ani also counselled the rest of the family, for his wife and children too had to come to terms with his disability
Money for the house was hard to come by since Somarajan was the main breadwinner before he went blind. Now his wife, Mani, works in a cashew factory; daughter, Manjusha, is studying for her MBA and also working at a resort; and his son, Suresh, who is 15, attends school.
Somarajan earns some money by making and selling envelopes. He recycles used sacks collected from local shops and makes each sack into five smaller envelopes. He sells the envelopes back to the shops, where they are used for selling groceries. He makes about 20 envelopes a day, including glue from refined flour.
Other than providing him with a rehabilitation worker on a regular basis, NAB – Kerala has helped Somarajan in many other ways. It has helped him get access to benefits he did not realise he was entitled to, such as a disability pension, and a train and bus pass. He has also availed of the house maintenance scheme from the local panchayat which helped him renovate his house, and has also signed up for the national health insurance scheme.
Explains Manoj Kurian, Chief Executive, NAB – Kerala, “Often there is support available if people just ask. But people who are visually impaired don’t know what is available for them to even ask.”
When asked what advice he would give to someone in his situation, Somarajan says, “It is possible to rebuild your self-confidence. Make sure you find out about and utilise the resources that are available to you. Organisations like NAB that have rehabilitation workers will help you build your confidence.”