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In India’s First Blind-Friendly Pandal, A Durga Idol Made Of 12,000 Nails Which Can Be Touched & Felt

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During Durga Puja, while all blind lanes, dingy alleys, corners and crannies in Kolkata are decked up in dazzling lights, colourful marquees and vibrant themes, Bengalees flock the streets in hordes. Sounds exciting, right? Now imagine how Durga Puja is for the visually-impaired individuals, who can’t step into the jostling crowd to blend in with the Puja madness or witness the artistic marvels at the pandals. To foster more social inclusion, Samaj Sebi Sangha in Kolkata has portrayed blindness as their theme this year, with a pandal exclusively dedicated for the visually-challenged.

What Durga Puja means for the visually-challenged

Ballygunge Samaj Sebi Sangha is a noted Durga Puja organiser in Kolkata, especially known for their attempts to create social awareness about many issues. “To do justice to our association name, which translates as ‘The Social Workers’, we try to inculcate some social consciousness through our Puja every year,” shares Arijit Maitra, General Secretary of Samaj Sebi Sangha.

Social workers Sumi and Shubhodeep Majumder, who have been working with blind children at Voice of World Special School, approached Samaj Sebi Sangha and suggested them to take up the cause of the visually-impaired.

No one has ever become poor by giving
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“We were so moved by the idea that we instantly finalised it. To start with, we interacted with students of Narendrapur Blind Boys’ Academy and Voice of World and asked them what Durga Puja means for them. Keeping in mind their ideas, dreams and emotions, we have tried to create an imaginary world in our pandal,” Maitra shares.

The organisers have extended special invitations to children from blind schools who have already staged different cultural performances at the podium near the pandal. They have also organised special surprises to fill those little minds with bursts of happiness.

The Durga sculpture made with 12,000 screws (Image credits: Arnab Dutta Gupta)

Every inch of the pandal has something to tell you

The entire stretch of the pandal has been lined by a tactile path, where visually-challenged visitors can walk independently, side by side with others. An enlarged sculpture of the Goddess Durga idol made using 12,000 screws, graces the entrance, which the visually-challenged people can touch to feel how a traditional idol looks like.

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2,00,000 meals served
Emergency funds sent to 350 families, 75000+ meals served, 150+ ration kits and sanitary pads distributed

Handicrafts in nails & strings, woodwork and paper cutting, made by trained blind individuals, adorn the walls and ceiling of the main pandal.

The entire set up exudes the essence of a world as seen by individuals deprived of sight, with artworks and sculptures spreading the message of empathy to all.

An artwork depicting blindness

To raise awareness about posthumous eye donation and how it can gift the blessing of sight to someone, the organisers have collaborated with MP Birla Eye Foundation. “Over 20 people have already pledged their eyes even before our inaugural ceremony. We hope more people follow suit,” informs Maitra. To ensure credibility, the volunteers are provided with a pledge certificate after they register for eye donation.

“A gateway installed near the pandal depicts a solar eclipse to pass the message that if we donate our eyes, then the light can come back to the visually-impaired,” he shares.

“We have also offered a stall to Blind Person’s Association who have been operating a Braille press in Bengal for a long time. Presently, due to a decline in external contributions, they are struggling with funds. We wish people pour in funds generously for them to continue their noble endeavour,” Maitra appeals to everyone.

Artwork showing the social exclusion of the visually-challenged

The voice of an inward eye

The 2018 theme for Samaj Sebi Sangha is “Sparsha – Anubhaver Durga Pujo” (The Voice of an Inward Eye).

“The freedom of the mind’s eye is the right that Ma has given us. No external evil or darkness has the power to enter the divine world we create with our senses of touch and sound that Samaj Sebi has complemented. Our Durga Puja, therefore, is far more beautiful this year. They have assisted our eye and heart to conquer what sight bars us from.” – reads the description on their website.

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Goonj Is Working With 1000’s Of Volunteers & Partner NGOs To Provide Covid-19 Relief In 18 States

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With the extension of the lockdown the crisis of migrant labourers and daily wagers has just grown bigger due to uncertainty and fear of future. In the migrant colonies, slums and for people in the villages hunger and desperation is building up day by day. This is high time we step up our efforts to support our people who are in dire need of food and hygiene essentials to survive the pandemic, Covid-19.

After the India-wide lockdown, a lot of jobless migrant workers are stuck in cities with hardly any resources while many started retreating back to their villages. With the loss of livelihoods, a large number of them are now struggling to support their families.

Goonj activated its pan India teams and a pan India network of partner organizations and volunteers in urban and rural India. This network, built over the last two decades, helps them learn from the ground, reach material quickly and review and adapt strategy periodically. Intensifying this network has helped Goonj reach and start work across 17produced states/UT in the last three weeks.
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2,00,000 meals served
Emergency funds sent to 350 families, 75000+ meals served, 150+ ration kits and sanitary pads distributed

Goonj’s focus: 

Majority of the Covid-19 relief work by non profits right now is in the metros and cities but Goonj is the only non profit that is also simultaneously focusing on the people in the villages and the ones stuck on highways or somewhere.

Goonj is targeting daily wagers, migrants and other vulnerable groups, who even traditionally are left out like the disabled, sex workers, LGBTQ community.

“COVID-19 is a crisis, yes…But, it’s also an opportunity for us to build the society anew. Not ‘for’ the people…but, ‘with’ the people. And in the process, we will build ourselves too.” – Anshu Gupta, Founder-Director, Goonj.

Direct Monetary and Material Transfer

Wherever Goonj got the permission to open their centres for packing and disbursement of relief material kits, they are creating a kit consisting of 20-30 kgs material including dry rations, masks, sanitary pads and other hygiene material and reaching them to people, as per needs and as per regulations with all safety precautions. This kit will help a family survive for 30 days.

Information till 10th April 2020:

  • Distributed 15,100 ration kits reaching thousands of people
  • Reached 17,700 families
  • Supporting 12 community kitchen across India with 16,600kgs of ration
  • 77,800 food packets provided to migrant laborers and daily wagers walking on the roads across the country.
  • Provided direct financial support to 32 organisations
  • Made 42,800 cloth face masks
  • 24,900 cloth sanitary napkins produced
  • Produced 1500 litres of organic sanitiser

In Goonj’s processing centers its trained team of women are making cloth face masks and cloth sanitary pads (MY-Pads), keeping all the precautions and with the permission and cooperation of the local authorities.

In this lock-down phase if you are facing any difficulty getting sanitary pads or you are running out of stock, here’s a detailed but very simple process of making Cloth Pads at home created by Goonj. “This is how we make Goonj MY Pads.” This is how our mothers and grandmothers turned their spare cloth into pads.

This disaster, unlike any other, is unprecedented in its scale and impact and that’s why we all must do our bit with Goonj to continue its relief work for millions of people in this still unfolding long-tailed disaster.

The need is huge.. We are there.. Need You too !!

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Quote
It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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