In 2012, SN Barath began visiting the Poonamallee Government School for the Blind to conduct reading sessions every weekend for one student. That student passed with flying colours, scoring 960 marks in his Class 12 exams that year.
Barath, who was in his college final year then, had been moved after observing the plight of a blind person he saw while commuting to and from college.
‚ÄúI thought if one student could score so well with minimal help, how much better it would be if many can benefit,‚ÄĚ he says, adding that this sowed the seed for Lit the Light, a voluntary service group that he started.
Soon two other friends, Ramkumar and Ravikanth, joined Barath to provide reading sessions for 11 students. In 2014, Barath formed the group along with his friends Ramkumar and Ravikant as a platform to find readers and scribes for the visually impaired students.
The organisation has been empowering visually challenged youngsters from across the state by organising reading sessions for students and arranging scribes, in addition to helping them discover their hidden talents and find employment opportunities.
Government schools in Tamil Nadu provide study materials in Braille only up to Class 8, after which visually challenged students are forced to study using commonly available books in print. ‚ÄúInstead of fostering an environment that helps them overcome hurdles, the system is indeed apathetic to their needs,‚ÄĚ Barath says.
This group today helps arrange over 5,000 scribes annually for visually challenged students from across the state. In Chennai alone, they arrange scribes regularly for close to 30 schools and colleges. ‚ÄúBefore Lit the Light, the students were left to find and arrange scribes for themselves. The institution nor the government took any responsibility,‚ÄĚ laments Barath.
Taking this process a step ahead, Barath and his team have been working on an ambitious Digital Audio Library Project hoping to cover books in different categories ‚Äď academics, motivational and competitive exam materials.
Madurai team that won Louis Braille Trophy in 2017
‚ÄúThese audiobooks will be made available online so that any student can download it at any time and use it. Currently, we have about 200 volunteers, from India, USA, and the Gulf, just for recording books,‚ÄĚ shares Barath.
Lit the Light, where ‚ÄėLit‚Äô stands for Literature, does not stop with just education. The group also has a dedicated team that helps visually impaired youth discover their hidden talents. ‚ÄúThere‚Äôs nothing that they can‚Äôt do. We‚Äôve found so many talented singers and artists during our talent-hunt drives,‚ÄĚ says Barath.
Jyothi, an aspiring singer with visual challenges, has gone on to sing the melodious ‚ÄėKannamma‚Äô for music director GV Prakash Kumar in his upcoming film Adangathey. In 2014, the group organised a Chennai district level cricket tournament for the visually impaired and the Tamil Nadu State-wide Blindfold Cricket Tournament (Louis Braille Trophy) in 2017.
Lit the Light has also been helping to find financial support for aspiring sportspersons with vision impairment. In 2015, Lit the Light helped K Ramesh, a TN cricketer who represented India in the differently abled category of the Cricket World Cup, get financial aid.
Ramesh with Barath (left)
‚ÄúIn April 2016, the Common Wealth Judo Championship was held at Port Elizabeth, South Africa for which three players were selected from Tamil Nadu to represent India. While they did not receive the required support from the government, we launched a fundraising campaign and were able to raise around Rs 1,14,000 each for the three players and one coach,‚ÄĚ says Barath.
M Susheela, R Vijayasanthi and J Manoharan, the three Judo players, went on to win two gold medals and one bronze respectively.