Credibility & Governance of NGOs

Eric Thakor
AP Comp. Gov Roby
Community Service Project


Volunteer organizations that assist the impoverished, homeless or handicapped permeate Indian society. In India, a country with a population of over one billion, the government cannot effectively provide universal services or affordable healthcare to the masses. As a result, many are left starving and homeless, without jobs or the ability to pay for doctors. Within this demographic, masses of physically and mentally handicapped peoples are left unable to support themselves or access doctors. Non-governmental organizations that often rely on foreign funding attempt to remedy some of these problems, but these institutions are predominantly concentrated in more livable and developed areas and tackle more attractive issues. Enter the Blind People’s Association of India, an organization located in Ahmedabad (state of Gujarat) and staffed almost entirely by locals. Founded in 1984, the BPA targets the mentally and physically disabled, the poor and the homeless. The BPA established what is essentially a boarding school that provides education and vocational training for this poor and disabled demographic. During my time working at the BPA as a volunteer, I gained insight into the organization as I worked with the the staff members and the handicapped; I also acquired first hand experience with the organization while living in the campus dormitories. The organization proficiently trains blind and otherwise handicapped children and young adults in a variety of fields and subjects in their on-campus facilities and factories. However, due to the financial standing of the institute, sanitation and living conditions on and off campus are subpar, and the organization is understaffed for most of the year. Although the BPA does have a slight dearth of professional staff, good sanitation and adequate funding, it is a unique and effective organization that greatly assists in developing the skills and livelihoods of the disabled peoples in the region.

The Blind People’s Association of India must improve its infrastructure, facilities and sanitation as well as increase the number of professional staff members working at the institute in order to function more efficiently and stably. The BPA’s single campus is located in the city of Ahmedabad in the state of Gujarat. Because the city is so large and the main campus is relatively small, many of the teenage boys and girls that attend the school live two miles away in separate housing wards. During my time living at the institute, I had the opportunity to visit these wards- which were reached entirely by traveling on unpaved back roads. The wards were one story ‘open’ buildings with no doors that each housed around 75 disabled children supervised by only two BPA administrators. These administrators were responsible for tending to the basic needs of the children as well as transporting them daily to main BPA campus. There was only one bathroom in each of the wards which was located next to the kitchen and consisted of several ditches and holes where the children could relieve themselves. There was absolutely no plumbing to speak of, and the tap water was so contaminated that it had to be boiled prior to consumption. In an e-mail interview with BPA President Bhushan Punani, Mr. Punani recognized that the living conditions off-campus were more than subpar. “The sanitation and living conditions in our housing wards is disgraceful. The residents don’t have access to clean bathrooms, substantial nutrition or formal medical care. Because housing and education is free for most of the younger students, we acquiring funds to improve living conditions is difficult.”[1] Each day, the 150 combined off-campus residents walk the two miles to the main campus to attend classes or worked in the factories. There is no bus or taxi service that transports them, and those with physical handicaps must ride bikes that are operated by hand.[2] “We must focus on improving these facilities and infrastructure. Not only is it unsafe and uncomfortable, but it affects with motivations and learning abilities of the students,” says Punani.[3] The younger children are housed on the main campus in small, cramped dormitories and sleep on hard bunks stacked three high, and the living conditions are only slightly better than they are at the wards. During the day, a total of 36 paid staff members (many of whom are handicapped) currently assisted by 12 volunteers operate the organization. However, due to lack of funding, the number of professional staff has decreased steadily over the past five years. The number of staff has dropped consistently from 56 members in 2008.[4] “The organization relies heavily on government grants and individual donations to fund its many facilities and to house its 230 students. We appropriate around 1 million USD annually, but that is scarcely enough to sustain the facilities, let alone improve the internal infrastructure and living conditions while paying the 27 staffers (the nine board members aren’t paid),” said organization Treasurer Sunita Desai in an interview. “Around 8% of the funding is spent on salaries and administration, 80% is spent on programs and maintaining educational and vocational facilities, and roughly 12% is spent on room and board,” Desai added.[5] These factors may deter potential patrons from supporting the institute as well as discourage staff members from staying.

If the BPA is to continue its mission and sustain it’s facilities and staff, it must budget more of its money into housing facilities and sanitation so that the beneficiaries feel comfortable enough to live and work. The organization must also establish a strong advertising base and be more effective at reaching out for donations and publicizing the organization in order to receive more funding. Rather than using funding to create more facilities and departments, the donations and grants should be used in part to increase the wages of the staff members to ensure a more stable administration. This more attractive environment and more stable workforce would encourage the beneficiaries to perform better in their classes and feel more secure away from home. Despite all of the infrastructural shortcomings of the organization, the BPA greatly benefits its constituents and handicapped peoples nationwide.

The BPA is a transparent organization staffed by incredibly devoted people that effectively develop skills in the severely handicapped so that they might become viable entities in the workforce. The BPA also functions as an orphanage for individuals whose families cannot sustain their medical costs, and it has an incredibly beneficial effect on greater Indian society. While the BPA does not receive stellar funding given the size of the organization, it has successfully created several campus departments that assist in the training of the handicapped beneficiaries. These facilities include a school for children ages 4-16, fully functioning steel, cloth, newspaper and woodshop factories (that sell their products to raise money), an extensive Brail library, a physical therapy department and an IT computer graphics department.[6] The mission of the BPA is to teach their handicapped constituents to be able to function in everyday society, and to develop skills so that they might become a viable entity in the workforce and be able to support themselves and their families. Many successful students have emerged from the organization: Yagnesh Modi, a blind BPA student was recently recognized by the Gujarati government for obtaining a degree in physical therapy at the BPA and finding employment at the prestigious Pulanpu Hospital in Gujarat.[7] The BPA is able to do produce successful ‘graduates’ so effectively by training students from a young age and taking a parental role in the student’s life. “We first train the student in basic social things, such as speech (if they are able), reading, and basic math- however we must use different methods depending on the type of disability. As the students grow we identify a skill set, and place them in departments that favor the particular skills. After training them in their respective fields, we appeal to industry executives and attempt to employ our students,” explained Mr. Punani.[8] Many BPA students join the institute as adults and try to obtain vocational training or work in the factories. The BPA employs 85% of its ‘graduating’ members annually, but many come work for the organization.[9] This is an incredibly successful rate considering the limitations of the students. The BPA also selflessly pumps 80% of its revenue into establishing facilities on and off campus, including the Bareja Eye Hospital for the blind, and instituting 18 handicap-oriented programs in several schools in the state. The organization also successfully influences governmental policy and acts as an interest group for the handicapped. In 2004 the BPA proposed the Barrier Free Environment Act which would make all buildings in the state of Gujarat handicap accessible. The bill was passed through Gujarati legislature in 2005, and as a result, the BPA received the International Golden Award for Community Development Services the following year.[10] The organization is incredibly effective at mobilizing its cause and developing the severely disabled into skilled potential employees.

Although the campus and living conditions are unsanitary, unsafe and uncomfortable, the BPA is an incredibly influential and effective entity in the city of Ahmedabad and the surrounding country. Besides the organization’s ability to develop intelligent and friendly students, it functions as an outreach organization that houses and supports 230 handicapped children and young adults, completely free of charge.[11] Even those who come to the institute for special training do not pay if they are unable. They grant asylum to children whose families are unable to support them, and educate and employ them. The majority of the students’ families are in extreme poverty; many of them are homeless themselves or live in the sprawling slums of Ahmedabad, to which the BPA wards are a luxurious alternative. The BPA is also an overwhelmingly selfless organization that pumps a majority of its revenue into establishing affordable hospitals, education centers and academic programs in the surrounding community. “The BPA provides feedback to the community surrounding it. Unlike many organizations, our influence is visible, accessible and tangible,” said Punani.[12] The BPA’s administrators and staffers are honest and dedicated to what they do; all of them working for free and grossly overqualified. The BPA is recognized by the government and has been granted many other awards for its outstanding work in the development of the handicapped.[13] For the majority of the students, the ‘unsanitary’ (by Western standards) conditions of the campus is a small price to pay for food, housing and education. It was an absolute pleasure working with such an organization, and it will surely remain a priceless institution in India for years to come.

WORKS CITED
Chowk, Jagdish Patel. "The Blind People's Association." Empowering the Blind and
Disabled. Accessed April 1, 2013. http://siteresources.worldbank.org/
resources/14645_Blind-Ppl-web.pdf.

Desai, Sunita. "BPA Funding Questions." E-mail message to Eric Thakor. April 1, 2013.

Joshi, Bharat. "BPA India." Blind People's Association of India. Accessed April 1, 2013. http://www.bpaindia.org/index.htm.

Punani, Bhushan. "BPA Interview." E-mail message to Eric Thakor. March 31, 2013.


[1] Bhushan Punani, "BPA Interview," e-mail message to Eric Thakor, March 31, 2013.
[2] Jagdish Patel Chowk, "The Blind People's Association," Empowering the Blind and Disabled, accessed April 1, 2013, http://siteresources.worldbank.org/resources/14645_Blind-Ppl-web.pdf.
[3] Bhushan Punani, "BPA Interview," e-mail message to Thakor.
[4] Bharat Joshi, "BPA India," Blind People's Association of India, accessed April 1, 2013, http://www.bpaindia.org/index.htm.
[5] Sunita Desai, "BPA Funding Questions," e-mail message to Eric Thakor, April 1, 2013.
[6] Chowk, "The Blind People's Association," Empowering the Blind and Disabled.
[7] Joshi, "BPA India," Blind People's Association of India.
[8] Bhushan Punani, "BPA Interview," e-mail message to Thakor.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Joshi, "BPA India," Blind People's Association of India.
[11] Sunita Desai, "BPA Funding Questions," e-mail message to Thakor.
[12] Bhushan Punani, "BPA Interview," e-mail message to Thakor.
[13] Joshi, "BPA India," Blind People's Association of India.

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