In this Cast we are talking to Poonam Vaidya from India. She spent last summer at Enchanted Hills Camp and…
The #RebuildEHC series is where we are bringing awareness to the #RebuildEHC to gain support for rebuilding Enchanted Hills Camp and Retreat. The largest fire in California history did not spare EHC and the spirit has not been broken. Rebuilding EHC for future generations is the goal this year and
next year and that is what is going to make this time so memorable. You can support the #RebuildEHC by going to www.Lighthouse-SF.org/enchanted-hills/rebuilding/
In this Cast we are talking to Poonam Vaidya from India. She spent last summer at Enchanted Hills Camp and Retreat as a counselor and shares her story about her Blindness, ambitions and the differences she has noticed between our two cultures, India and United States.
Poonam has returned to India and has hopes to someday see changes come to her culture and I am sure she will be there on the front lines fighting for the independence and education for her Blind community.
You can contact Poonam by email
Thank you for listening!
See complete Transcription below.
Experiencing Another World of Blindness – Meet Poonam Vaidya from India. #RebuildEHC (Transcription Provided)
In this series we’re trying to bring awareness to Enchanted Hills Camp and Retreat in Napa California up on Veeder mountain, and that’s part of the Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired of San Francisco.
Over the last couple months we’ve all heard about the fires in California and it did not spare Enchanted Hills Camp and Retreat.
Now it’s time to rebuild and that’s hashtag rebuild EHC, and on this cast, I had the great pleasure talking to Poonam Vaidya.
She’s from India, she was the counselor at EHC for the summer, she was just a great talk.
I hope you enjoy.
So actually my education got a big boost because I couldn’t see because, I was so worried about let’s say making it, that I did better than I expected.
Introducing Poonam Vaidya, visiting camp counselor at Enchanted Hills Camp and Retreat.
Oh yes and next figures there’ll be some surgery, some technology that will help me see again, and I was so hung up on that that I’ve got to move on with my life, imagine that there won’t be anything and just move on, and if that does come something you know you don’t have to really look for it, it will come to you.
Poonam is from India, and as a blind person independence is hard to come by.
The focus has shifted, if I go to someone’s house and they ask me if I want lemonade, I would just like put my hand ahead thinking that okay, there’s a glass of lemonade that’s gonna come into my hand, it’s gone from that to asking for the picture so I can pull my own memory.
Poonam is from halfway around the world she came here to learn and to take back with her what she’s learned, but she’s also left but a few words that we can learn from.
Just kind of try to be open and accept all these opportunities that you get because, once you open one door then you can get to the other door.
Welcome to Blind Abilities, I’m Jeff Thompson.
I was up on Veeder mountain at Enchanted Hills Camp and Retreat in Napa California and that’s part of the Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired of San Francisco.
The Woodworkers for the Blind had their sixth annual event there, it’s a second year in a row that Enchanted Hills Camp and Retreat hosted it.
I was assisting George Schwartzel in teaching two classes, one advance, and one beginner.
So when I came in a few days early some people were leaving, and before the woodworkers came in I the pleasure of running in the Poonam.
Poonam was a counselor, and she’s from India.
We got to talking about what it was like to be blind in India and how she found Enchanted Hills camp and Retreat and what she’s taken away from it, it’s very interesting to learn how it’s so much different in other places in the world, and when they come here they learn and want to take it back with them, so it’s my pleasure to introduce to you Poonam.
How are you doing Poonam?
I’m doing great, just finished lunch, so, satisfied, content, ready to go.
So I am from India and my name is Poonam Vaidya, my city is Bangalore, and the state is Karnataka.
How I got to Enchanted Hills is a long winding story.
You usually ask someone here how they got here, but, and they say “oh someone referred us” or something, but my story isn’t that short, so let me begin with the beginning.
After I lost my vision I was taking mobility classes and learning Jaws at the same time I was teaching myself how to work with Jaws.
I needed something to write so I started to write stuff that was going on in my mobility classes, and I would publish that on my blog.
That blog was seen by a journalist who asked me if she could interview me, six months later I said yes, after she interviewed me, an inventor who works with Braille devices saw that and said that he would like to speak with, and he told me of place called Kanthari.
You know it started with volunteering for me, you could say officially from Kanthari.
I volunteered at that organization, it’s run by blind woman called Sabriye Tenberken, and she, she really influenced me, I wasn’t using the cane until then, I started becoming a more let’s say, a well-rounded blind person and in Kanthari, someone called An,a she told me about Colorado Center for the Blind and I applied, and a year later I got to the Colorado Center for the Blind, and from the Colorado Center for the Blind one of the students told me about Enchanted Hills Camp, actually they told me at Lighthouse, and I went to the Lighthouse and they told me about EHC, so that’s how I got to EHC.
So that’s quite a journey?
Yeah yeah I told you my story was long.
So when you got to Enchanted Hills Camp, did you apply to be a counselor, did they just recognize that you would be a great counselor and they make you an offer to stay the whole summer?
It actually went like this, I was leaving the United States and my friend Peter told me about Lighthouse for the Blind, and I went to meet the CEO Bryan Bashin and we got into a long conversation and he said, well you can’t really do it now because you’ve got to leave the country and you know, the paperwork and all that has already been filed but, maybe next year you could come back as a counselor and work at Enchanted Hills, and he gave me the contact information for Tony Fletcher.
And me and Tony stayed in touch and as it got closer to summer, we hashed out the details and I got a visa so I could come here and volunteer.
So what was it like your first time volunteering here at Enchanted Hills?
It was a great experience, there were a couple of challenges.
Usually as a blind person especially in India, people always looking to serve me and help me out, but in this case I had to help others and you know, the rule of a counselor is to facilitate, help others help themselves as well as help them when they can’t have themselves as well.
So there are a few challenges also being blind, there are few things I couldn’t do, for example identify a color, something like that so, yeah it’s, it’s been a fun, fun ride and I’ve been here for almost three months you can say so, I came here on June 7th and it’s you know, almost the end of August here so, yeah it’s it’s been fun.
So being that you’ve gone from, well what we call, going from high school to college to the workplace and stuff, what was that like for you to experience transitioning to the different educational levels?
So when I lost my sight when I was, I had just finished my bachelor exam, Bachelor of Arts exam, and so I didn’t really need to worry about studies or something.
For one year I took a break.
I was at the exact time that I lost my sight, I was in a journalism course, and I was trying to get m,y it was like an Emmy almost in in journalism and I was trying to get that but I had to cut that short because I couldn’t see and, the course that I was applying for, it was audio-visual communication so because I couldn’t do the video part, I had to drop out.
A year later I took up my masters in English and that was, I think I became from an average student to a really good student for these three reasons.
One is that I was so freaked out that I wouldn’t be able to pass or you know clear my my papers that I put that extra bit of effort which actually pushed me through and you know gave me really good marks and, I also had to find new ways, like I couldn’t possibly scan every page of the textbook, and the college has absolutely no infrastructure for blind people so, I was kind of on my own, so I had to read a lot of other material.
Every material that was available to me I would access and for that reason I knew a lot of the background information and I could answer questions better.
So actually my education got a big boost because I couldn’t see because, I was so worried about let’s say making it that I did better than I expected.
For someone who, someone like you met at camp or someone like that, if they’re in high school and looking forward to college, what advice would you give to them?
Would you say just someone in the world or someone specifically in India, because it depends on each, each country, and each person as well?
Well let’s say, for someone who is having trouble accepting their blindness, to make those next few steps forward to go further with whatever endeavor they want to be challenged with, because it will be a challenge.
I would just say don’t get preoccupied with your vision and how it can, because people used to ask me is there hope, and I say oh yes in next figures there will be some surgery, some technology that will help me see again, and I was so hung up on that that I forgot to move on with my life.
I think that’s the main thing, you have to start moving on with your life.
Imagine that there won’t be anything and just move on and if that does come something you know you don’t have to really look for it it will come to you so, I feel like with the sighted world they’re so preoccupied with you getting back your sight, also with all this media which has like, someone being blind and gaining their sight at the end of the movie, so for that reason I would just say like move on, don’t, don’t be preoccupied.
Great, what hobbies?
My hobbies, I really like writing, I listen to a lot of audiobooks, I’ve always enjoyed reading so this form of reading is also interesting or just reading through audiobooks.
My Braille isn’t good enough to read a book yet but I’m getting there.
I also like talking on the phone to my friends, I watch anime a lot, that’s strangely enough, that’s one form of media that I can still see because it’s larger than life and I don’t know it’s just, my vision level can recognize anime but can’t really recognize real life and faces.
Yeah, I mean that’s about it.
How about PC or Mac?
I just bought a Mac and I’m struggling with it.
I still prefer PC but I’m sure at the end of like this month, I think I might have a different answer.
That’s right you just got a Mac?
Just like, it’s three days old, no wait its two days old.
Oh wow, well there’s a lot of people that also know how to use it, so I’m sure you learn how to tap into other groups, books, and other things and get going with that learning curve.
Yeah, yeah, I’m still, right now I’m reading some resource material but, it’s like reak key, and this key and that key, and I’m just like whoa, but I think I’ll get the hang of it because I have an iPhone, and I really like my iPhone so I think I’m gonna slowly but surely get used to it.
There you go, well do you plan on coming back?
It’s, it’s not a question I know how to answer yet because I’m not sure where I will be in the next year, so depending on if I have a job for example, they’re not gonna let me you know, take off for a while they’re not gonna, if I’m teaching maybe that’s a possibility, so there are lots of question marks, so it makes it impossible to answer that question.
What big ambitions do you have for your occupation?
I might now, now this is not really regarding my occupation but, sometimes, somewhere like since I was a student at the Colorado Center for the Blind, I taught, and it’s, it’s a very very big ambition, but I’ve thought that maybe a little later, maybe ten years later, I might be able to organize like a training, or you know, have a similar to CCB kind of training organization in my own country.
Because we in India really really need a training program and we basically need a way to get away from all the support system that’s forced upon us let’s say, so that we can be independent.
Poonam was on BBC radio worldwide and this was called “I am blind and I’m not begging”
Poonam: (on the radio)
Everyone was shocked, and I would hear things like “Is there a state home for you?”
I’ve hear that, things like [Inaudible] when I’m walking down the street.
There’s a blind person there, and oh my God she’s a blind girl, which is not begging, the whole concept of a blind beggar, you know [Inaudible] shadows the blind community.
She showed me to her actions lets say that, you don’t have to be interdependent on others if you are blind, you can totally manage yourself, you can manage more than just your cane, and your [inaudible]
In the video it shows Poonam walking along the sidewalks and along the streets mixing amongst others in the blindness community.
I would say Shirley was a turning point in my life.
I have never generally gotten to be with so many blind people.
There’s an expectation that the parents will shelter them, the entire time, and that’s why they are not seen at events or get-togethers, I guess they’re not expected to work, there definitely needs to be an infrastructural change, as well a sociological change because people with disabilities have been told all their lives that they expected to listen to what everyone else thinks is best for them.
I think that would be my ambition, just with my career, I don’t really have some ambition until now, I just plan to just work on money and you know, go ahead.
Do you think being here at Enchanted Hills Camp, what’s the biggest impact that you are taking away from it?
I would definitely say that, also coming from a country like India where everyone wants to serve you at all times, especially with food, the focus has shifted so while if I go to someone’s house and they ask me if I want lemonade you know I would just like put my hand ahead thinking that okay there’s a glass of lemonade that’s gonna come into my hand, it’s gone from that to kind of asking for the pitcher so I can pour my own lemonade, and also I’ve never ever really had the chance to serve so many people that often, so it’s become, it’s definitely broadened my horizons when it comes to just serving, helping others, that kind of thing.
Well great, Well Poonam, thank you very much for sharing your story and is there anything else you’d like to tell the listeners?
Just one more thing I could say is that in my life I try to say yes to every opportunity possible and that’s how, you know, I’m here right now.
So I would just say maybe that could be another advice that I forgot to say, just kind of try to be open and accept all these opportunities that you get because once you open one door, then you can get to the other door.
Well thank you very much.
Thanks Jeff for interviewing me and my email address is Poonam.email@example.com that is P for penguin, O for orange, O for orange, N for Nancy, A for Adam, M for Mike, period sign, V for victory, A for Adam, I for India, D for Delta, Y for yellow, A for Adam, at gmail.com.
And if anybody else out there is interested in spending a summer here being a counselor and learning all that Poonam has learned and sharing what they know, you can contact the San Francisco Lighthouse or a call and talk to Tony Fletcher.
Thanks a lot Poonam.
It was a great time talking to Poonam, it was really exciting to see the BBC radio feature that they did on Poonam, you know just connects you up again with someone halfway across the world that is doing something unselfishly, sharing, disseminating what she’s learned and trying to make changes in a space that change is probably a little bit harder to come by then we have it here so, Thank You Poonam, thanks for what you’re doing, and thank you Enchanted Hills Camp and Retreat for creating the opportunities, opportunities just like this, and remember rebuild EHC, that’s hashtag rebuild EHC, we really want to thank you for listening, we hope you enjoyed, and until next time bye-bye.
[Multiple voices at the same time]
When we share what we see through each other’s eyes, We can then bridge the Gap between the limited expectations and the realities of Blind Abilities.
For more podcast with the blindness perspective, check us out on the web at www.blindabilities.com, on twitter at BlindAbilities, download our app from the app store, Blind Abilities, that’s two words, or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, thanks for listening.