Noida Deaf Society is mainstreaming India’s hearing impaired community through education and vocational training, and helping them lead self-reliant lives.
Helen Keller famously said: “Blindness cuts us off from things, but deafness cuts us off from people.” In a 1910 letter, the famed 20th-century activist and educator wrote: “The problems of deafness are deeper and more complex, if not more important, than those of blindness. Deafness is a much worse misfortune. For it means the loss of the most vital stimulus — the sound of the voice that brings language, sets thoughts astir and keeps us in the intellectual company of man.”
The hardships faced by speech and hearing impaired individuals are often compounded by the social stigma that confines them to loneliness.
Keen to tackle this problem at its roots, Ruma Roka (55) started the Noida Deaf Society, a non-profit, in 2005. The non-profit aims to empower the hearing impaired community in India to lead sustainable and self-reliant lives by providing them with customised training and employment opportunities.
Ruma began her journey in 2004 by learning the Indian sign language. Spending time and interacting with the deaf made her realise the need to do something. She started Noida Deaf Society (NDS) in 2005, clearly defining the role the organisation would play. NDS would work towards the uplift and empowerment of speech and hearing impaired children and youth through quality education and job-aligned training, which would lead to sustainable opportunities.
To provide education, she needed teachers who would care for and teach children. It was difficult to find such teachers but Ruma helped create able leaders and role models.
“Today, NDS has 39 trainers and managers who, along with their non-hearing impaired counterparts, are working towards the growth of the organisation,” Ruma says.
Manveen Raina, Outreach Manager, joined NDS last year. “I had worked in the managerial sector my whole life and was looking for a change. That’s when I heard about NDS and began volunteering here twice a week. As I picked up the sign language, I realised how moved and motivated I was by the people here and decided to join permanently.”
Ruma was keen to provide vocational training to the hearing impaired to enhance their employability quotient and enable them to contribute to and find their place in society.
But given the extremely poor educational background of the students, employment has been a challenge. Working to bring the skill sets of the youth to a level where the formal industry would accept them was slow, but patience, her trainers and one-on-one interactions with students helped. Ruma slowly developed capable and skilled youth, now ready for employment.
In a first-of-its-kind effort, Ruma decided to open the world of computer literacy to these youngsters with training in sign language. This meant that professional training and skill development courses were made accessible in a nurturing environment.
Today, NDS has successfully trained over 7,000 hearing impaired youth and children, and has helped over 1,700 find employment in various industries.
Teacher training programmes in special schools and various outreach programmes in regular schools are organised regularly. For Ruma believes that the future of the hearing impaired also lies in “bringing a change in the perspective of young children and youth”.
The non-profit organised a mini marathon, Run for Hope, in Noida, as part of its efforts to spread awareness about the community.
“I thank NDS for giving us such an opportunity. This was my first experience where people who can hear and those who could not were running together. This initiative helped boost my confidence,” says Surbhi (interpreted in sign language).
The 3km marathon saw participation from about 300 individuals.
“It was a short run that helped bring the hearing impaired community together and spread awareness about the work that NDS does,” Ruma says.
Two youth from Adarsh Nagar won the first and the third prize while the second prize was won by a regular student from Delhi Public School, Noida. The winners received certificates, medals and cash prizes; the other participants were also given certificates.
“The environment at NDS is extremely different. While we spend our days worried and stressed, people here take in happiness wherever and in whatever form it comes in. It is just wonderful to sit and talk to these people!” Manveen ends.