Visually impaired girls learn to grow vegetables through touchNews — By The Desk on April 12, 2012 at 12:00 PM
Indian Express: For 18-year-old Sangeeta Gaikwad, one of the visually impaired girls at Poona School and Home for Blind, mornings are about visiting her kitchen garden and checking on the plants in the kitchen garden — brinjal, chillies, bottle-gourd, methi , onion, tomato, etc, harvesting vegetables and so on. Between 8 am and 10 am, Sangeeta is in the garden — touching the leaves and vegetables, feeling their height and size, checking the dryness of leaves and monitoring the growth of these plants. She is among 40 blind girls at the school in Kothrud, who are being trained in kitchen gardening — claimed to be a first-of-its-kind project for the visually impaired in the country.
“We are usually taught vocational trades like stitching, sewing, knitting and making candles. However, as most of us hail from rural backgrounds, gardening and working in the soil makes us happy and is close to our heart,” said Sangeeta, who hails from Baramati. Her family is chiefly into cultivation of sugarcane.
The school trains girls in various vocations till they are 18 and helps them in starting an activity of their choice when they are ready to leave the school. “Girls who wish to develop their own kitchen gardens as an income generating activity can be given funds for soil, saplings, gardening equipment, etc, from the school,” said Archana Sarnobat, administrative officer of the school.
Having gone full-fledged in September last year, the kitchen garden yielded six to seven kg of vegetables every day for four months. The vegetables were then used in the school’s kitchen. Teams of 15 to 20 members from Cummins India Ltd visit the school daily and help the girls in cultivating the vegetables. “We have learnt to identify the plants by touch, understand whether vegetables are ready to be plucked by their size and texture, monitor the growth of plants by their height and so on,” said Alka Jadhav, another girl whose father is a farmer in Sangli and owns a pomegranate orchard.
Around 40 girls above 16 years of age are being trained in kitchen gardening. The programme also involves training in handling small farming equipment like sickle and spade and spraying insecticides, which is done under the supervision of volunteers from Cummins.
It all began when four German volunteers — Angela, Sara, Daria and Schini — stayed at the home for a year in 2009 as part of the mandatory community service exchange programme. They had made a small kitchen garden with the help of visually impaired girls staying there. “It was beautiful and we realised that the girls were showing a keen interest in developing it. That is when we thought of expanding the activity and adding kitchen gardening to our list of vocations,” said Sarnobat.
The authorities shared the idea with Cummins Foundation, which has been supporting the school since 1974. Accordingly, Cummins gave Rs 1 lakh to the school for this purpose. “The biggest challenge was to improve the quality of soil so that a variety of vegetables could be grown. Once we overcome that, we procured saplings and cultivated brinjals, a variety of beans, chillies, coriander, tomato, onion, bitter gourd, etc,” said Ravichandran Subramaniam, head of corporate responsibility at Cummins Group of Companies in India.
Nine months after successfully running this activity, the school bagged an award of $15,000 (Rs 7,47,750) for their kitchen garden and paper bags activity at the hands of Jean Blackwell, executive vice president (corporate responsibility) and CEO of Cummins Foundation, on Wednesday. “We shall utilise this amount to gradually make the school self-sustainable in cultivating vegetables and allied plants like lime, ginger, mint and curry leaves needed in everyday cooking,” said Sulabha Pujari, the school’s head mistress.