Name: Bertha Dkhar
Educational Qualifications: Masters in Social Work
Achievements: Can be credited with the initiative of making the Braille code available in Khasi and was awarded the Padma Shri for her achievement. CNN-IBN ‘Real Heroes Award’ was also conferred on her in 2012 in recognition of her exemplary work.
56-year-old Bertha Dkhar runs a free school called the Jyoti Sroat School for the Visually Impaired, a unit of Bethany Society at Laitumkhrah, Shillong. The school that has more than 200 students and is up to Class VII has churned out many success stories. One of the old students is now Programme Coordinator of an Outreach Programme in the Jaintia Hills. Out of 200 students, 80 are children with special needs.
The charge of the school was handed over to her in 1999 and she has since carried on with exemplary zeal. Initially, the enrolment into the school fluctuated between 50-60 students as the school hostel could accommodate only so many numbers. Also, the school did not have many visually impaired children from the town, so the numbers stayed the same whereas the number of teachers increased in keeping with the school’s needs. Bertha meanwhile had become more informed on the concept of inclusive education thanks to her travels around the country. She thought of it as a win-win situation in which the differently-abled students’ overall growth would be boosted by interaction with other normal children, and the numbers would also increase simultaneously. They were also looking for funds to maintain the school and the teachers. They finally successfully collaborated with the Education Department of the State to access Central Government funds for inclusive education. ‘That way, we could pay better salaries to retain our teachers and also spread the word on inclusive education,’ says Bertha. ‘The Ministers were up for it but the bureaucrats were apprehensive; they belonged to the old school. I insisted on an inclusive model as special schools can never accommodate all children with special needs; also such schools are only available in urban areas. We finally managed to convince everyone’. There are now similar schools coming up in Jowai and West Khasi Hills.