Nagpur: Sonali Nandkumar, 38, who is partially blind, lost some courage when less marks in banking exams meant she would not get a job there. "They told me that exams would be re-conducted once the new government takes over, but I failed to clear those too," says the BA graduate.
However, like the silver lining to dark clouds, Nandkumar found employment last month at NGO Atmadeepam Society's new Agarbatti Project. Nandkumar had never seen an agarbatti machine before and was unsure whether she would be able to do it. But after training for a month, she now boasts of making 7-8kg agarbattis a day, between 9am to 5pm.
"Till now, my parents have cared for me. But with the money I earn, I want to care for them. It makes me happy that I too have got something to do. I am not a lesser being than anyone," she says.
Priyankar Purankar, 21, who recently finished her graduation, is also partially blind. "The situation at home is not so good," she says, adding, "I'm from Chandrapur, but I live here with my brother. Paying the rent is a concern for us." After learning to make agarbattis, Purankar's agility now helps her make 10kg a day. The monthly wages she receives are enough to pay the rent, and also allow her to apply for a master's degree.
Her roommate Amrapali Somule, 23, who recently shifted from Chandrapur after graduation, also decided to make the most of the opportunity. "My parents are happy and encouraging me," she says.
Over 40 people will benefit from the initiative helmed by Atmadeepam's founder Jidnyasa Chawaldhal. Each individual will be paid Rs15 per kilogram of agarbattis produced by them. The project was inaugurated on Sunday at the project's premises on Salve Road, Mohan Nagar.
Some 20 machines have been donated by District Disability Rehabilitation Centre, while another 20 have been given by Persistent Foundation. The opportunity to work will be open to all visually impaired persons above 18 years of age who wish to earn money.
Two partially blind persons will also supervise the making of agarbattis and be responsible for making the mixture to be coated over the agarbatti sticks. All the required raw materials will be given by Cycle brand agarbattis, and the produced agarbattis will be perfumed and later marketed by the same company.
"There is a similar project in Gadchiroli for sighted people. I was in talks with them about how this project could be implemented here for the blind. When Avinash Shinde, president of Integrated Group, came forward to donate the space in his building, I decided to launch the project," says Chawaldhal.
She adds, "Not all visually impaired individuals can be absorbed in government jobs, especially the fully-blind and uneducated persons. This project is for them to earn a living. It is pretty easy once a person is trained."