These Odisha youths on a mission – audio books for every blind student by 2019

Bhubaneswar: At a time when career conscious youths in their mid-20s run after white collar jobs, this team of five engineering graduates is busy assembling audio clips to prepare audio books for visually challenged students. What has driven their seven long years of arduous journey, is the strong will power to provide education accessible to visually challenged students and enhance their skills through social entrepreneurship.

Meet Abhaya Mohanta, co-founder of We4You, a Bhubaneswar-based non-profit organisation which has so far provided audio books to about 15,000 visually impaired students- from Class VIII to post-graduation level in Odisha.

“Like their sighted counterparts, the blind students have also career dreams. But in the absence of sufficient tangible study materials in Odisha, which help them not only to score big in class tests but crack various competitive examinations, both at regional and national levels, it is next to impossible to turn their dreams into reality. Our journey has just started and we wish to see audio books in the hands of all 25,000-odd visually impaired students in the State by 2019,” an excited Mohanta said.

Difficult it may seem, but the young minds are working relentlessly to make their goal see the light of the day.

The team, with a strong support base of nearly 300 volunteers comprising housewives, college students and job holders across the State and 200 outside, records text books to facilitate the students with study materials. What all needed to prepare the audio clips are a computer with inbuilt recording software and a microphone. And the team’s small recording set-up in Saheed Nagar area here is well-equipped to produce about 10 books a month, claim the members.

“We provide microphones to volunteers who can’t make it to our studio regularly. In that case we mail them scanned copies of textbooks. After recording their assignments in MP3 format, they send us back through e-mail. Once all chapters of the textbooks are ready, we send these to the students in CDs/DVDs by post. The production process is quite convenient as the commuting time is saved and every individual can work according to their suitable time,” added Mohanta, an engineering graduate.

The mode of functioning to produce the books, has helped the 20-member core team to expand the operation in cities like Delhi, Gurgaon, Bengaluru, Pune and Mumbai. “Not very much effort is needed to do this. But the important part is co-ordination with outstation team members and timely delivery of books. We are glad to have sincere volunteers and friends as well, who are helping us to reach our goal. Though it is in nascent stage, but we are planning to have our presence in all the major cities of the country. Initially we are going to open set ups in the neighbouring States,” said Bhabani Parida, co-founder of the organisation.

Interestingly their noble effort and facilitation of guide books in the recent past has encouraged many to sit for the national and state-level examinations like National Eligibility Test (NET), Odisha Teacher Eligibility Test (OTET) and B.Ed. Thanks to the State government which is yet to provide Braille text books beyond Class-X, let alone encouraging these students with the supply of guide books for competitive examinations.

“Yes, we are observing an increasing trend of enquiries relating to availability of B.Ed audio books. Since majority of the visually challenged students prefer teaching as a profession, given the minimal inconvenience involved in it, as of now about 500 students are continuing the course with the help of our books while the number is 3000 in case of students who are pursuing Graduation through distance mode in Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU),” stated Rajaram Biswal, who along with Panda, Mohanta, Nihar Ranjan Das and Debi Prasad Panda, had taken a lead role in conceptualising the project exactly seven years ago. We4You celebrated its foundation day on Sunday.

Remembering the germination period of the concept of making audio books, they give credit to their engineering college teachers who guided them to “do it sincerely”. “From part-timers during college days, now we have our own organisation. We are lucky that we all are like-minded,” an elated Biswal said.

For Ram Narayan Das, who works with software firm Tech Mahindra and is associated with the group since past couple of years, it gives him immense pleasure to work for the society.

“My profession may be quite different from this, but I am addicted to working for the visually challenged students here. It gives me self satisfaction,” noted Das.

The group which has ten awards to its credit for contribution towards society, including from Department of Social Security and Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (SSEPD), Odisha and Biswa Foundation, Maharashtra, is preparing a blueprint to make audio books for CBSE and ICSE courses in all languages by 2025.