Rita Rego, 54, volunteered with visually impaired students ever since her college days. Later, during the 24 years that she held a corporate job, she continued to volunteer as part of her corporate social responsibility efforts.
“Over years of vocational training programmes, we saw the need to start a skill-based training centre for the visually impaired focusing on their strengths and not their lacunae,” she said.
That is how Aesthesis Foundation For The Visually Impaired was born, launched in 2021 with her long-time friend Urvi Jangam, also visually impaired and holding a PhD in German studies.
The motto of Aesthesis is to foster empowerment of the visually impaired through skilled education, to help students from lower socio-economic backgrounds get better career prospects through vocational training. Aesthesis Foundation provides trade-based training and internships to visually challenged. Its courses cover communication, personality development, computers, mobility training, perfumery, German language, etc. Believing that the real problem of blindness is not the lack of sight alone but also the misunderstanding and lack of information, combined with the limited opportunities, Aesthesis tries to give visually impaired students skills to find and develop their passions, talents and practical knowledge.
Rego says the foundation deals with vocational training that focuses on the other human senses, as a counterweight to the lack of sight.
“At Aesthesis Foundation we specifically aim at enhancement of the four senses, not as a mere compensation for the absence of visual sense, but actually a different potential deriving from the development of these senses,” she said. Their students have worked in perfumeries and perfume outlets, for example. Other areas they are trying to work on include food and flavours, social media, sales and marketing.
Rather than focusing on the verbal-logical-linguistic-mathematical skills that formal education tends to focus on, Aesthesis tries to develop spatial, and interpersonal skills, or intelligence based on other senses such as kinaesthetic intelligence (bodily skills).
Nearly 45 individuals have benefited from Aesthesis Foundation’s courses. Some of these are studying further, others are working and have become financially independent.
With India accounting for about 20% of the world’s visually impaired population, preparing them for careers and managing their livelihoods has been deeply impactful work.
Working with people suffering from visual impairment for so many years has given Rita an understanding of the gaps in the field. “The problem is about the approach that people have towards any disability. We are trying to work not only on getting work for everyone but also to get them assimilated in society culturally,” she said.
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