This training programme is bringing good vision to rural West Bengal by hiring unemployed youth
The Vision Technician training programme, set up by the National Skill Development Corporation along with Susrut Eye Foundation and Research Centre, is attempting to stop two gaps with one bush - unemployment and inaccessibility to eye care in India.
Binod Hembram, a resident of Paschim Burdwan district in West Bengal, was constantly looking for a well-paying job in his neighbourhood. With an annual income of Rs 36,500, his family was struggling to make ends meet. The 20-year-old wanted to support his family as well as pursue a degree in Arts from the Kandra College in Durgapur.
“I was looking for a way to start earning since a long time. I wanted my parents and siblings to lead a decent life. I was unable to see them scraping through money, patching leaky holes in the roof or compromising on wholesome food. This is when I got to know about the eye care training programme offered by the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) along with Susrut Eye Foundation and Research Centre. I immediately joined and managed to complete the course. Today, I am not only securing an income of Rs 18,000 a month as a vision technician, but I am also enabling people in rural areas access eye health,” Binod tells YourStory.
Just like Binod, 86 other unemployed youth in rural areas across West Bengal have benefited from the NSDC-Susrut Vision Technician training programme.
“Among those trained, 78 of them have established an optical business in their community, and are providing rural folk access to proper eye health, and nine of them are working with the Susrut Eye Foundation itself,” the NSDC Spokesperson explains.
Launched in 2018, the Vision Technician training programme is attempting to stop two gaps with one bush – both unemployment and inaccessibility to eye care in the country.
The initiative was born out of a collaboration between the NSDC as well as Susrut Eye Foundation and Research Centre. NSDC is a not-for-profit public limited company set up by the Ministry of Finance, Government of India, to promote skill development. And Susrut is a Kolkata-based ophthalmology centre delivering eye care service to citizens.
A peek into the training programme
The Vision Technician training programme is an intensive one-year tutelage aimed at churning out eye care professionals. Anyone who is below 40 years, and has cleared Class 10 is eligible to enrol for it. During the course of the programme, the trainees are taught concepts like eye anatomy, refractive error correction, lens grinding, edging, grouping, glass fitting, optical dispensing, and other measures to deal with eye problems.
“Besides theoretical aspects, we also make sure the trainees undergo practical training involving the administration of eye check-ups and screenings, examination for cataract refractive errors and eye diseases, and providing spectacles. This takes place under the expert guidance of Susrut’s senior eye specialists at outreach camps across the districts of Howrah, Birgham, Murshidabad, Hooghly, South and North 24 Parganas as well as in areas in and around Kolkata Salt Lake,” says Avijeet Das, Project Lead, Training Department, Susrut Eye Foundation and Research Centre.
At the time of registration, the trainees are charged Rs 25,000 for the programme. However, during the course of their stint at outreach camps, they are paid a stipend ranging from Rs 2,000 to 3,000 a month, depending on their performance.
After completing 12 months of training, they are certified as Vision Technicians. Later, the NSDC and Susrut provide them with all the equipment and resources (slit lamps, retinal camera, eye chart, phoropter) required to set up an optical shop.
Additionally, the qualified technicians are also given assistance to organise awareness camps in their locality, and initiate branding solutions for the establishment.
Boosting both employment and eye health
The programme aims to resolve two impending concerns that India is staring at – unemployment and inaccessibility to eye care.
India is home to a third of the world’s blind population, with about 12 million individuals suffering from visual impairment as against the global total of 39 million. One of the major reasons for this is cataract and refractive errors. Though these are preventable 80 percent of the times, lack of awareness and poor access to eye care has been making the situation look bleak.
According to the National Sample Survey Office’s (NSSO) periodic labour force survey, India’s unemployment rate stood at 6.1 percent for the year 2017-18, the highest in the last 45 years.
“Susrut and NSDC is focused on helping people find a sustainable livelihood for themselves and their families. Since a lot of the people residing in rural areas are educated, but unemployed, we have been targeting them for the Vision Technician training programme. Besides, through the course of this, people get an opportunity to contribute to the society – in this case, bringing eye health closer to people,” Avijeet notes.
Pinki Sarkar (32) a homemaker turned entrepreneur, belonging to the Hooghly district of West Bengal, exemplifies this. Pinki learned about the launch of the Vision Technician programme through an advertisement in the newspaper. Her decision to join the course changed the trajectory of her life, she says.
“After gaining all the knowledge about eye care, screening, and lens correction, I got the confidence to set up my own optical store. Susrut and NSDC supported me both financially and technically through this journey. Today, I feel great about being able to contribute to my family’s income and at the same time make eye care accessible to people in my locality,” she says.
NSDC and Susrut are now planning to rope in more rural folk into the training programme across West Bengal, and are looking to expand to other states in the near future.