"I am blind since birth. When I was two months old, my mother realized that I had problems with my eye sight. When she consulted the doctor, he said that no medical treatment could restore my vision and adviced her to educate me well," says Madhu Singhal. Madhu Singhal is the Managing Trustee of Mitra Jyothi, a registered charitable trust formed in 1990 with the objective of integrating persons with disabilities into the mainstream of the society. Till date, Mitra Jyothi has provided support to around 7,000 disabled persons through its various programs.
"When I was six years old, I learnt Braille from a visually impaired teacher at my home in Rohtak, (Haryana). Forty years ago, there were no special schools for the visually impaired in my hometown, therefore, I studied from home and my brothers and sisters helped me. When I was in sixth standard, my mother went to my sister's school and requested them to allow me to sit in the classroom, where teacher assured that she would assist me in case I needed any help."
"This was when I started my regular schooling. Since then, I have been studying in schools and colleges like any other normal child. It was a good experience for me in those days. There were not much of Braille books available, and so I had to make my own notes in Braille. In the initial stage my fellow students did not realise my difficulties later on they understood and I got full cooperation," says Madhu.
"When I completed my post graduation, there was a big turmoil in my family as my father passed away. I did not know what to do. I wanted to pursue my Ph.D., but had to re-locate to UP as my brother settled with his business here. In 1987, my sister and brother-in-law invited me for a holiday to Bangalore, where they lived. While at Bangalore, I tried to look out for job openings in the social sector, but did not find any. They felt that I was new to the place and did not know the local language," she adds. "My brother-in-law gave the idea of launching our own Trust. He said to me: 'You do not need any financial support. Why don't you run a trust, and under this start different programmes based on the need?' I welcomed his idea, and thus Mitra Jyothi was founded in 1990," says Madhu cheerfully.
During the early days, Madhu did not know how to manage staff, maintain the books of accounts for Mitra Jyothi. "I got good people to help me. Mrs. N.S. Hema, Founder, Association of People with Disabilities showed me the way to manage staff, and do all NGO related work," she says.
Madhu conducted outreach programmes and organized surveys in urban slums. She decided to conduct specific programmes for the visually impaired and initiated the 'Talking Book Library'. She organized regular meetings with fellow NGO workers to identify the need of the disabled in Karnataka, and also participated in advocacy campaigns related to disability.
"This gave me the opportunity to meet people who were affected with other disabilities like orthopedically handicapped and hearing impaired. I understood the problems they faced, and realised that my problem was nothing when compared to them. They always depend on others, but for a person like me it is not so. They need much more support. I have concern for people with all types of disabilities", adds Madhu.
Mitra Jyothi coordinates 'Braille Transcription'; 'Computer Education' especially for the visually impaired; 'Job Placement'; and 'Independent Living Skills' programme for rural and urban women who are visually impaired. "We have made a lot of improvement in 'The Talking Book Library' project. With the technology advancement, we now have CDs instead of cassettes. We want to provide training on Community Radio and Radio Jockey. On 20 March 2011, Mitra Jyothi will turn 21. I never envisaged our organisation to grow so big. But, it all just happened," says Madhu.
The 21 year journey was not easy for Madhu. She had to face a lot of challenges, like lack of financial aid for programmes, lack of qualified staff, and lack of infrastructure etc.
"We had to vacate the rented premises every two years and so wanted to construct our own building. This was the biggest challenge I have ever faced. I believe if there is a problem, there would be a solution. I get my strength when my mind thinks about doing something for the disabled in order to make their life more useful," she says.
Madhu has visited several countries and is a member of the World Blind Union. She also serves as a consultant to several developmental organisations. She received many awards and recognitions personally and for Mitra Jyothi. She received the National Award in 2008 for her achievement in working for the cause of people with disabilities. She is the recipient of Manava Seva Dharma Samvardhani National Award 2011, and also received IBN -7 Bajaj Allianz Award.
"I feel good when I receive awards. But I feel even happier when people recognize our work, as this gives me the strength to work further. Today, Mitra Jyoti has a good philosophy, good infrastructure, and a lot of goodwill. I am confident that we will be able to reach out to more people in the future," concludes Madhu.