Sashi Kala Singh

Ashoka Fellow
Illustration of a person's face depicting a fellow
This description of Sashi Kala Singh's work was prepared when Sashi Kala Singh was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1992 .

Introduction

Shashi Kala Singh, a teacher of the blind, seeks to train disabled and blind Nepalese for employment using technical and vocational skills, to enhance their educational opportunities, and to demonstrate the often unrecognized capabilities of this highly talented segment of society.

The New Idea

Shashi trains the blind and disabled to use advanced technologies (be it engineering equipment or computers) and then follows up with an aggressive job generation program. To this end, she has founded the Nepal Technical and Skill Development Center for the Blind and Disabled. Although at present the center trains its students in word processing, it is increasingly including other skills training for all educational levels, including machine operation, factory assembly, and crafts. Simultaneously, Shashi is helping to create a change in perception about the disabled population. The center conducts seminars for government officials, officers of foreign organizations, and private entrepreneurs to demonstrate that disabled persons are capable of performing various jobs in their institutions. She also heightens awareness of the disabled among employers by speaking to service clubs and employer groups, and by encouraging potential employers to hire the disabled on a trial basis. These contacts not only help foster job creation for the disabled, but also afford the center insight as to the jobs available in the public and private sectors.

The Problem

Nepal has about 100,000 blind persons and an additional 150,000 to 200,000 persons whose vision is so poor that they have difficulty functioning in society. Although Nepal has only seventeen million people, its dismal nutrition and health conditions, as well as other factors, render nearly as many Nepalese blind as in the United States. The blind and the disabled are among the most neglected segments in this nation, one of the world's poorest. Nepalese society views these people as cursed by God, and they are generally shunned and grossly discriminated against. According to a recent survey of the National Association for the Welfare of the Blind, of the 250,000 to 300,000 blind and low-vision persons in Nepal, exactly 205 attended schools. The survey was able to confirm only seventeen blind persons who were employed. Aside from a few blind teachers, the jobs are at the lowest level, such as broom making. The situation of the rest of the disabled population is almost as bad. It is difficult for them to gain admission to school or to secure employment. Shashi is convinced that well trained, skillful workers with good work habits can compete in the job market on an equal footing despite their disabilities.

The Strategy

Shashi's initial program trains the blind on computers, enabling them to obtain employment as word processors. Due to the expense of the computer equipment, she has devised a training program that serves several students at once. Once the training is completed, a blind employee, equipped only with a speech synthesizer (a small, portable device) can do the work of a word processor at an employer's premises. After six months of employment on a trial basis, the employer is asked to purchase the synthesizer for his employee so that another can be purchased for the center. Shashi has plans to expand her center so that it can enroll students from any educational level. Basic education is provided for those with no previous schooling, followed by vocational training in such skills as weaving, knitting, tailoring, candle making, and handicrafts. A technical track builds upon the center's computer course with training as telephone, office machinery, and assembly-line operators. Shashi also plans to build a larger facility in order to accommodate more students. The center works with qualified students to obtain a university education on scholarships given by universities and other educational agencies, local businesses, and international donor agencies.Finally, the center informs the public of the potential manpower capabilities of the blind and disabled through seminars with government organizations and with the private sector. In these exchanges, the number and the particular qualifications of the trained disabled will be matched with availability of jobs in these sectors. Training can be focused toward existing jobs when necessary. The center is also lobbying the government to reserve some jobs in different government offices for the disabled.

The Person

Shashi has a Bachelor of Arts degree, as well as a Bachelor of Education degree in Special Education. While studying for her master's degree in India, she learned of the work being done there by the National Institute for the Visually Handicapped, which so impressed her that she returned to her native Nepal to devote herself to teaching the blind. In addition to establishing a large school for the blind in Dharan, Nepal, Shashi has attended (and sometimes conducted) training sessions for teachers and other professionals in Nepal, India, and Japan for training, education, and employment for the blind. For several years, she has been head of the department for the blind at the Kirtipur Laboratory School, where she has also expanded enrollments also for children with other disabilities.