Sunday, December 12, 2010

In India, businessmen encourage water safety by teaching blind students to swim

From The Bangalore Mirror in India. Vasantha Kumar (second from left) with his students (from left) Sridhar, Anil Kumar, Chandrashekar and Ashok.

The shocked expression on the face of a blind man after he accidentally stepped into a puddle is something that Vasantha Kumar B R could never erase from his memory. So he decided to go right ahead and do something for his blind brothers and sisters. He decided to give swimming lessons to the visually impaired to help them overcome their fear of water.

The business manager with Suvas Heilung Pharmaceuticals and his friends now teach visually challenged degree students swimming every day from 7 am to 8 am at the Basavanagudi swimming pool. This, he says, will not only help them shrug off their irrational fear of water but will also make them more confident and courageous.

“I was at South End Circle one rainy day, when I saw a blind man accidentally step into a puddle and look absolutely shocked. That’s when I felt that maybe the visually challenged do suffer from water phobia,” said Kumar.

Kumar, who has been swimming since the past three years, then got in touch with an NGO at J P Nagar who in turn provided him with four visually challenged degree students. But why didn’t he start with school children? “I was apprehensive for the safety of visually impaired children, so I thought I would start with degree students. Earlier, the students were slightly scared to swim in even six to 10 feet of water, but now, they can easily swim in 50 feet of water,” said the father of twin daughters.

Soon, Kumar and 15 of his swimming colleagues started teaching four degree level blind students how to swim. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the 38-year-old initially. “At first, it was challenging as this was the first time they were doing something like this and I could see the anxiety on their faces. But for them, their ears are their eyes and they learnt from listening. So if they had to go in one particular direction, they would follow their instructor’s voice and move accordingly,” he added.

The number of students has increased to nine, with five more registering with them. “We will start another batch from next week,” he said. The group makes sure that their students are not put to any inconvenience. “They come everyday barring Wednesdays. Usually, swimmers have to pay Rs 16 but we don’t let the students pay. We foot the bill,” he added.

Kumar, who hails from Sakleshpur in Hassan district, also points out that swimming has advantages for the blind. “Swimming helps a person to become more confident and courageous. It’s more than an exercise as it teaches people to overcome hurdles.”

Kumar, who teaches techniques like freestyle and backstrokes has only one request. “There are so many swimming pools in Bangalore and so many swimming coaches. If they come together to teach even a small percentage of the visually impaired how to swim, what a difference it would make.”