Spice Route

Vaani – Lending A Ear

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In November 2002 a feasibility study was carried out on issues surrounding childhood deafness in India. Based on the findings of the feasibility study, the fact-finding visits and workshops, the vision which emerged was for family members to acquire some basic knowledge and understanding about deafness, teachers to have specialist knowledge and abilities that would enable young deaf children to achieve their full potential. What came through as a huge gap was the need for parent involvement in the lives of their deaf children, and a need for understanding childhood deafness, the need for early identification and education and hence the VAANI strategy and focus area of work was born.

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Mission & Vision

VAANI, Deaf Children’s Foundation was established in 2005 and is the first national NGO in India focusing on issues around childhood deafness, and provides holistic services that address the social, emotional, communication, language development and educational needs of deaf children. It encourages families to take an active part in supporting all the needs of their deaf children including advocating for their rights from governments and service providers. “Deaf children face a complete disconnect from the world around them. This results in isolation and feelings of desperation within the child. We stress that parents, teachers, community workers and the general community need to understand that deafness is a very complex disability and that being deaf results in the inability to develop speech, which means that the child does not have any means of learning or communicating via language. Establishing a mode of communication through any means, be this through speech or sign language, is necessary for the total development of a deaf child,” opines Brinda Crishna, Chairperson – Board of Directors. VAANI’s vision is to eliminate the most fundamental and overlooked problem with childhood deafness – the inability of the child to communicate with his or her own parent. And its mission is to bring language into the lives of deaf children and their families and thus enabling them to have meaningful conversations between themselves and the world around them.

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A Helping Hand

VAANI is a catalyst organization and works with grass root level NGOs to disseminate these services for deaf children by establishing a Sadhan Resource Centre (SRC) in their local communities and government and other professional groups to create awareness and build skills. VAANI works with deaf children and their families focusing on education in communication and language development. “We build their skills to understand and use language meaningfully. We train families to connect and communicate with their deaf children and build emotional bonds with them. We work with teachers and other professionals to develop their skills on how to best manage and teach deaf children and community workers on how to identify deaf children and direct them to the VAANI Sadhan Resource Centre (SRC),” says Crishna. From 2005-2017, Vaani has directly benefitted 29500 community members which includes 7000 deaf children, 12000 parents of deaf children, 7000 professionals and 3500 general public. It has indirectly impacted around 100000 community members that includes deaf children, their parents and the general public.

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Role Model

Take the case of 32 year old Muslima Bibi from Sultanpura Village, North Parganas, West Bengal. Despite of living in the remotest village of West Bengal, Muslima Bibi has been progressive in transitioning the lives of her two sons who are deaf. Not only her children, but she has also managed to remarkably change the lives of other deaf children and their families in her village. At one point she had lost all hope and thought that her sons will never be able to lead a normal life like other children. “My son have a future now, only because of VAANI’s efforts that gave my life a purpose and I wanted to share her experiences and learning and help other deaf children so that they can lead a normal life like any other child.” Muslima proposed VAANI to start their resource centre in Malancha (her village) so that the people in her village get the right kind of services without having to travel a long distance. The Resource centre that started in a Muslima’s Cow Shed with just 7 children in 2014 provides services to 24 deaf children and their families now. With Muslima’s effort 45 deaf children have had access to communication and language development and a lot many parents and community members have been made aware on issues pertaining to childhood deafness.

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Get Involved

If you want to help you can enroll into their volunteer programs like Teach for Deaf, a 54-hour course spread over 9 months aimed at the corporate sector. The idea here is to create a movement of leaders that collectively help solve the problem of inequalities in access to communication and language for deaf children. You can also be part of various campaigns like Power of 10, a simple campaign to engage the general public. Each supporter would contribute INR 10 and share three key things about childhood deafness with another ten people. The amount collected would be used to reach all villages of India and conduct more awareness on childhood deafness and bridge the gap of communication between a deaf child and the society. The main source of funds comes from Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), corporate contributions, crowd funding and donations from individuals and foreigners. For every Rs. 100 that you contribute, Rs. 80 goes towards service delivery, Rs. 17 goes towards administrative costs, and Rs. 3 goes towards infrastructure. Some parents have set up their own Parents Support Groups to share individual stories of their struggles and learning to help each other collectively overcome hurdles.

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Looking ahead

Vaani, Deaf Children’s Foundation aspires to emerge as an international resource organization to support, facilitate and demonstrate various innovative models through different stakeholders to address the issue of childhood deafness. “We hope to increase our reach from 6400 deaf children to 20000 deaf children by 2020. We operate in 3 states currently and by March 2018 operations we hope to expand to 11 states of India. We hope to have six office locations by March 2018 from the current three and New Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai will be the next hubs of VAANI. We currently have four partner organizations that we hope to increase to 20 by March 2019. We also want to initiate a program on Data management of ‘childhood deafness’ in the form of Management Information System-MIS (to strengthen the data availability on childhood deafness) and also disaster preparedness for deaf children and their parents to support deaf children and their parents in disaster prone areas to work on mitigation,” concludes Crishna. So be sure that deafness never comes in between you and your child.

This story appeared in Spice Route’s Jan 2018 issue here: Caring Vaani

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