An evangelist for the deaf, Dr. Alim Chandani is associate vice president of the Delhi-based Centum GRO initiative (estb. February 2017), a leadership and entrepreneurial skills training centre that offers free-of-charge three-month certificate courses across five segments — deaf empowerment (for instance, courses in legal rights and policies for people with disabilities), English and communication skills, multimedia, business process outsourcing services and data entry operations — to deaf and hard of hearing graduates.
Centum GRO is a joint initiative of the US-based not-for-profit Global Reach Out Inc (GRO), founded in 2008 by Dr. Chandani (who was born deaf and communicates in sign language through an interpreter) and the Delhi-based Centum Foundation, the CSR wing of vocational training provider Centum Learning Pvt. Ltd.
Formerly an assistant professor of social entrepreneurship at Gallaudet University (GU), Washington D.C. — widely regarded as the world’s best university focused on barrier-free education for the deaf — Chandani has a long history of working intensively with hearing impaired youth. He mentored students afflicted with loss of hearing at his alma mater — he is a new media and e-commerce graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology, New York, a postgraduate in deafness rehabilitation and higher education studies from New York University, and has a doctorate in administration and supervision in special education from GU. He has handled leadership positions in several organisations for the hearing challenged. Among them, the US-based not-for-profit National Association of the Deaf, Discovering Deaf Worlds and human rights organisation Global Youth Connect.
Newspeg. In September, Centum GRO welcomed its fourth batch of 50 students. “We strongly need to fight audism, i.e, the notion that one is superior because of one’s ability to hear. Therefore, besides offering employability skills to students, the focus of our training module is to connect them to experts and role models who are also deaf and hard of hearing, and also sensitise prospective employers to give them equal opportunity in workplaces, learn sign languages and understand deaf culture,” says Chandani.
History. Chandani was born deaf in India and his family migrated to the US when he was three years old. His work with GRO and doctoral research has brought him back to India. “I was blessed to receive the best education in mainstream US institutions. That’s where I learned that it’s unacceptable for deafness to be a barrier to good quality education and equal opportunities, the lack of which makes numerous deaf people here unaware of their inherent potential. Therefore, when I was approached by Centum Foundation for its project to train deaf youth, I seized the opportunity to pursue my passion to make a difference in my homeland,” says Chandani.
Future plans. While hopeful of the Central government’s new National Action Plan launched in December 2015 for STPD (Skills Training of Persons with Disabilities) which envisages skills training of 2.5 million persons with disabilities by 2021, Chandani highlights the need to work towards creating enabling environments for the deaf and disabled rather than merely reserving jobs, which is basically institutionalised charity.
“Centum GRO’s target is to train 400 deaf youth by September 2018, work on their English learning skills, equip them with employability skills and create favourable environments for them in large business corporations. Once they get industry exposure, we will expand as an innovation and incubation centre for deaf entrepreneurs. We also have plans to establish a world-class English language institute for the deaf, run by experts in sign languages,” says Chandani optimistically.
Wind in your sails!
Swati Roy (Delhi)