Twenty years ago, at the prime of her youth, Jill Anderson was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, an eye disease that can ultimately rob one of their eyesight. There is no cure. Slowly, Jill’s world was getting darker and darker. “I began to realise I couldn’t escape the inevitable,” she shares.
Jill grew helpless, more so because her everyday tasks were becoming impossible day by day. She would hit walls and injure herself trying to walk alone inside her own house. Dimly lit places would be a nightmare for her, so was meeting with acquaintances, as she failed to see and recognise their faces. She was gradually slipping into despair until Kirby came along.
No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank
Kirby is one among many guide dogs of America, who are specially trained to assist visually-impaired individuals in their everyday life. Jill and Kirby are now inseparable, fondly nicknamed as Team Jirby.
Who are the guide dogs of America?
Over 70 years ago, Joseph Jones Sr. founded the association ‘Guide Dogs of America’ with an aim to aid visually-challenged persons with trained feline companions. Joseph himself lost his eyesight at 57 years of age. A dedicated dog-lover, Joseph was keen to get a dog for himself, but almost all the dog-training institutes rejected him outright for his ‘advanced age’. Joseph was determined, and out of his sheer zeal was born International Guiding Eyes in 1948, one of the first guide dog schools in the USA. And Joseph got his own guide dog Lucy, who stayed by his side till last breath.
Support the cause you care for. Browse All Campaigns
Later, in 1992, the organisation changed its name to Guide Dogs of America.
Presently, Guide Dogs of America (GDA) has their schools in USA and Canada, where puppies are trained to be a blind person’s best friend, and later handed over to a caring owner, completely free of charge.
How are these ‘good boys’ trained
The process of training at GDA is highly systematic and full-proof, and needless to say, heartwarming indeed. Hundreds of stories with the happiest endings have sprouted from the training workshops of GDA. Perhaps the best part about adopting a guide dog from GDA is that the potential owners are matched with the perfect dog for them, following a three-week-long training session involving both the willing adopters and the dogs.
At around eight weeks of age, the young puppies are taken home by GDA’s volunteer puppy raisers, where they are brought up to be ‘good boys’. The puppy raisers also expose them to a wide range of environments so that they can adapt easily anywhere in future. At eighteen months, the loving, laughing, spirited young dogs are brought back to the GDA centre, where formal guide dog instructors devote time to each and every dog, teaching them advanced commands. Ranging from overcoming diverse hurdles to identify life-threatening situations for a blind person, these dogs are trained in everything.
Meanwhile, the performance, behavioural pattern and energy levels of each dog are meticulously monitored and recorded, so that when the owners arrive, they are paired up with a pup best suited for them.
When the registered blind persons arrive at the GDA camp, they are teamed up with the dog which suits their personality best. Then they are asked to engage in immersive training with their respective guide dogs, to master the dos and don’ts for living together. In the end, the dogs are officially graduated and go to their forever homes.
There is probably not a single professional surfer who doesn’t recognise Derek Rabelo, the visually-impaired surfer. His inspiring story has been the subject of books and world-famous documentaries. While years of practice and passionate practice have made riding the waves a cakewalk for him, Derek would still struggle to walk on the streets or reach the beach every day on his own. This was until Derek’s wife Madeline surprised him with a proposal, to adopt a guide dog from GDA. Serenity, a yellow labrador who was paired to be Derek’s guide dog, is equally dynamic in spirit.
“Serenity knows I want to go there when we go back. She gives me much more freedom and mobility to go where I want to go. She gives me a lot of confidence, and I trust her. Our relationship is growing every day,” Derek cannot hide his excitement about adopting Serenity, as he shared in the GDA blog, abuzz with more such heartwarming stories.
Blind dogs are getting their own guide dogs
Recently, visually-challenged New York resident Thomas Panek became the world’s first blind man to finish a half-marathon. However, Waffle, Westley and Gus, his super-efficient guide dogs, deserve 50% of the credit for his victory, as the trio of Labrador Retrievers helped him cover the 21 km race.
Guide dogs are perhaps not only for humans, as proved by blind Dachshund Dozer and guide dog OZ, a pit bull. Same is the story of 11-year-old Charlie from South Carolina, a Golden Retriever who lost his eyes to glaucoma. That’s when Maverick came in, a trained pup which soon became Charlie’s best friend and sole companion.
Efforts For Good take
Keeping a service dog is quite different from adopting a normal pet dog, owing to the long list of regulations to be stringently followed. Still, in the USA, the number of service dogs are growing rapidly. People with visual impairment, physical disabilities, epilepsy and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) generally opt for service dogs to be their unfailing companion through thick and thin. Guide dogs of America belong to the first of the categories mentioned above, and their numbers are also on a steady increase.
GDA is completely financed from public donations and fundraising, where people contribute generously for giving these guide dogs the best training facilities.
While technology is dedicated to making life easier for the visually-challenged, guide dogs are resolved to provide them with wholesome companionship and being a 24×7 friend.
Rahul Khera and Gautam Jindal, volunteers (aka hunger heroes) at Feeding India, were among the many Delhi NCR residents accustomed to seeing hungry children pick up half-eaten burgers or stale sandwiches from the dustbin and savour those with the brightest smiles. Like many others, they also had the will to promote equitable food distribution but was perplexed about the approach, until they learnt about the community fridge initiative which has gained unprecedented success in Saudi Arabia and few other European countries. Meanwhile, community fridges were already being installed outside restaurants or in public places in a handful of cities like Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Coimbatore and Kochi.
Thank you for overwhelming response for the Happy Fridge concept. We need more funds from you to install more fridges like this across India. With the limited funds avaialble Feeding India was able to install three fridges only. Kindly donate here http://bit.ly/happyfridge
Needless to mention, with a shocking 103rd rank in the Global Hunger Index and a food wastage estimate of around Rs 58,000 crore – India was perhaps the best country to implement such an initiative. With Gautam’s help, an enthusiastic Rahul invested his own savings to install a ‘Happy Fridge’ outside his residence at Sun City, Sector 54 in Gurgaon. Set up in 2017 by these Feeding India volunteers, the fridge in Gurgaon has inspired the NGO to scale up the project across India.
No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank
‘Happy Fridge’ fostered many smiles
It didn’t take long for the local residents to learn about this laudable endeavour. They welcomed it, as wastage of excess food was a recurring problem in almost every household. “Intimating the localities was no mammoth task, thanks to social media. However, it was difficult to spread the word among those who actually needed the food,” shares Rahul, who went from auto stands to slums, inviting rickshaw pullers, ragpickers or roadside vendors to avail the community fridge any time they feel hungry. “The security guards of our residential complex played a huge role in explaining how the fridge works to the beneficiaries,” he adds.
The operational and maintenance costs of the ‘ happy fridge ‘ are being maintained diligently by the community members.
Support the cause you care for. Browse All Campaigns
“I remember one young man who had arrived from a village looking for some menial day job. Somehow he had run out of his paltry savings and had no money to buy one decent meal a day. For about a month, our happy fridge was his solace, till he earned his first salary from a housekeeping job,” shares a jubilant Rahul.
In another incident, a truck driver returning in the wee hours of midnight was starving after a whole day’s hard work. He had run out of cooking fuel at his home, so our fridge was at his rescue.
“The residents keep all sorts of palatable dishes in the happy fridge, ranging from dry snacks, fruits to cooked meals. Sometimes, they even keep raw vegetables, to ensure not a single bit of good food ends up in their trash while other people go hungry to bed,” reveals Rahul.
On an average, each happy fridge supplies around 10-15 meals in a day. The gratitude and pure smiles of the hungry souls after a fulfilling meal are more than enough to continue to motivate Rahul and his neighbours. In fact, inspired by him, many other communities in the Delhi-NCR region set up community fridges in their areas.
Since the past few years, Feeding India has been a prominent organisation working in the forefront to solve the hunger problem in India. Primarily, they were involved in redistributing leftover food from weddings and parties among the underprivileged people in different cities of India. Their volunteers, better known as “Hunger Heroes of India”, worked actively to bridge the gap between food wastage and food crisis.
“We used to get a lot of calls from individual households to collect their excess food. However, unfortunately, we lacked the manpower and planning to launch our programme on a door to door basis. We were desperately looking for an alternative when we learnt about the community fridges,” shares Srishti Jain, co-founder of Feeding India.
After interacting with Rahul Khera and other campaigners of community fridges, Feeding India decided to amplify this extraordinary project throughout the length and breadth of India. Presently, they have launched the #FightFoodWaste campaign to install 500 community fridges – nicknamed ‘ Happy Fridge ’. So any passer-by – be it a kid going to school without a lunchbox, or a labourer returning home late at night with no promise of a dinner – can now grab a pack of biscuits or a bowl of ‘dal-chawal’ (rice & lentil soup) to satiate their hunger. Click here to contribute for ‘ Happy Fridge ‘ and ensure India never sleeps hungry again.
Feeding India also urges everyone to make a promise to stop wasting food and instead consider donating it to those in need.