EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH
Meera Chetan Bhatia
Founder and CEO
Sai Swayam Society
This time VictoryTales with the objective to bring the inspiring stories around the world came across Mrs. Meera C. Bhatia, Founder & CEO of Sai Swayam Society, a Delhi based PAN India NGO focusing on Empowerment of Deaf-Mute individuals through Education, Skill Training & Job Placement. Mrs. Meera is one of three siblings born to Speech and Hearing Impaired parents. She worked as a teacher of Computer Science in Modern School, Barakhamba Road, and founded a socially impactful NGO called Sai Swayam Society.
Her father, Mr. Suraj Prakash Kanchanbaras was the Treasurer for All India Federation for Deaf (AIFD) and the President for Silent Sports Promotion Society for the deaf. He was the captain of the deaf cricket team of India under All India Sports Council for Deaf. He was formerly General Secretary, All India Sports Council of the Deaf from 1984 to 1992. Her Mother, Late Mrs. Mohini Kanchanbaras was the Executive Member and also the Cutting & Tailoring Instructor at Delhi Association of Deaf (DAD) and was a trainer at All India Federation for Deaf. She worked as a battick & bookbinding trainer and manufacturer at Delhi Foundation for Deaf Women (DFDW). Consequently, she received the National Award as the Role Model Employee PwD in 1997.
Drawing inspirations from her parents, Meera started working as an Indian Sign Language Interpreter at the age of 16 years and worked for various organizations like the Delhi Association of Deaf, Delhi Foundation for Deaf Women, All India Federation of Deaf, National Association of Deaf and All India Sports Council of Deaf. In 1994 she began working as a News Anchor in Sign Language for the Hearing Impaired at DD News (National Network) and played an instrumental role in policy advocacy which led to the weekly bulletin being converted into a daily news show which now runs successfully till date and she continues to be the senior newsreader there. In 2007, she interpreted all the travel instructions for the hearing impaired travelers for Air India Airlines which is played in all international flights till date. Spearheading the fight for news accessibility for the deaf; since 2014, she has been interpreting all nationally significant telecasts such as Republic Day Parade, Independence Day, Teachers Day, Oath Taking Ceremony, and other such events.
After a tryst with life as a Computer Science Teacher in Modern Barakhamba school, Meera finally acted upon her lifelong calling and founded Sai Swayam Society for the Speech and Hearing Impaired in 2006 at the age of 36 years.
In 2010, Meera received the Helen Keller award by NCPED as the Best Placement Officer for PwDs. She was honored with the National Award for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (Best Placement Officer) by the President of India in 2014. For her experience and contribution to the field of Indian Sign Language (ISL) in India, she was awarded the Jazbaa Award for Excellence in ISL by the Minister of Minority Affairs in 2016.
Being raised by deaf parents and growing up as a voice for their community, Meera has a lifetime of learnings and experience of the issues and solutions for them. An experience of 36 years as an interpreter and activist, along with a professional experience of 14 years as the founder of an organization dedicated to empowering the community is what she brings to any forum for People with Disabilities.
Recognizing this, she has been actively involved in policy advocacy and formulation with the Department of People with Disabilities (MSJE) -
• Committee Member, Empanelmentas Skill Training Partner (PwDs) under the National Action Plan (DEPwD, MSJE)
• Committee Member, Task Force for the Early Intervention and Parent Sensitization for Deaf individuals
• Selection Committee Member, National Awards for PwDs 2016
• Committee Member, Indian Sign Language Research and Training Centre
For the certification of SODA and CODA, Meera wishes to revolutionize the world for the deaf and mute through efforts of school empowerment, skill training, employment opportunities, awareness generation, ISL workshops, policy advocacy, and policy formulation. Attempting to use all her experience, knowledge, and passion she hopes to create an inclusive and better world for Persons with Disabilities.
Know more About
Sai Swayam Society
Sai Swayam Society for the Speech & Hearing Impaired (SHI) is a Non-Government Organization focusing on Empowerment of the community through Education, Skill Training & Livelihood Generation. SSS focuses on "Signs- Skills- Strength” to transform lives. With an inclusive team of Deaf and Hearing Staff Members, we practice Inclusion & Accessibility right from the start, ensuring that Deaf individuals are key stakeholders in our organization.
With 9 extended centers and a hostel facility in Delhi, SSS reaches out to Deaf individuals across India. SSS is an empaneled skill training partner with the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MSJE). It is also a PMKVY skill training center. Over 12,000 Deaf individuals have been placed across India in about 170 corporate companies.
SSS conducts remedial classes for school students from deaf government schools. Also, year-long education & fee support is provided to drop out students who get enrolled in NIOS. They have reached out to over 1000 Deaf students.
Since Sign Language is the medium of communication for the SHI, SSS conducts Indian Sign Language Workshops for hearing individuals to generate awareness. Special focus on Police, Lawyers & Doctors. 18,000 people have been taught so far. Certification Workshops in affiliation with the Rehabilitation Council of India are also conducted.
Our exclusive interview with
Meera Chetan Bhatia
Can you please tell us the kind of work you do as a “Social Worker”?
I am the Founder – CEO of an NGO called SSS i.e Sai Swayam Society that focuses on the empowerment of Deaf individuals through education, skill training, and livelihood generation. The organization is a platform for providing basic education in all subjects. It also teaches deaf-mute kids how to communicate in the Indian Sign Language. It provides Skill Training in Retail and Hospitality and helps facilitate their placements with various companies across the country. By ensuring their mainstreaming into an inclusive society an opportunity for sustainable livelihood is offered. The organization also works as a center and safety net for counseling and assistance for the Deaf community in distress, in occupational or personal matters.
On enquiring why did she choose to become a Social worker over a job? Mrs. Meera said that;
It was a conscious choice to become a social worker over mainstream work. I transitioned from being a teacher of Computer Science in Modern School, Barakhamba Road to founding a socially impactful NGO. Being a Child of Deaf Adults (CODA), I found my calling in Sai Swayam Society because of the realization that apart from immense satisfaction of serving this community, I could use my unique experiences to bridge the gap that keeps the Speech and Hearing Impaired (SHI) community from equal opportunities, support, and treatment. I was uniquely placed to understand both sides and bridge the difference between their conditions. I have since, worked towards their upliftment, without looking back.
On enquiring about her key driving force to become a Social Worker? Ms Meera apprised that;
My key driving force has been the struggles of my parents as Deaf individuals in a newly independent India and drawing knowledge, learnings and inspiration from there. I wish to continue to play my role in working for a more inclusive and equal society for the upcoming generations of the Deaf. Being a daughter to SHI parents, my association with the Deaf dates back to my childhood. Due to their support and push, I have been a Sign Language interpreter since the age of 16. Their pride at seeing me positively impact their community is priceless. Moreover, the satisfaction that follows from being a teacher and a mentor to a student is an unparalleled and deeply liberating experience and I am a teacher at heart.
What’s your source of motivation?
My source of motivation comes from seeing Deaf individuals pursuing meaningful careers and in leading independent lives, empowered by education. Having seen my parents struggle and persevere all their lives, knowing that I play a small role in changing things for the better for the Deaf community keeps me going each day.
On enquiring How many hours a day do you work on average? She explains that;
This job is an around the clock job and requires me to be available towards the youngsters who are staying at my residential facility as well as on calls for day scholars. While the formal timings are that of 9 hours but this work is my passion which requires an active engagement with young minds, I consider it a 24/7 duty.
How do you balance your work and personal life?
My family is very cooperative and invested in my work. I get support, encouragement, and a variety of new ideas from their inputs. Balancing a healthy work – balance requires good time management, regular assessment of changing priorities and requirements along with flexibility. During exams and recruitment drives, I barely have time for home because the focus is on ensuring the best for all students while on days when family needs me, I tweak my office working hours or work from home. However, now with covid19 work patterns have drastically changed and ramped up.
On enquiring how she handles the pressure and manages stress? She explains that;
When you are following your inner calling and inherent passion, pressure and stress are tools which help you reshape your goals and grow into a stronger person. Of course, a competent and driven team plays an important role especially during tough days. Most importantly, reminding myself that all challenges are for a larger purpose of positively impacting someone’s life helps you stay positive and be committed to finding solutions and delivering.
On asking how she generates new ideas? she apprised that;
Inspiration comes to you only when you seek it actively, in your environment, within your team, from your target audience, etc. Here, my Deaf friends, staff members and students play an important role. Their problem sharing, suggestions and feedback are valuable. However, new ideas can also be the product of the adage, ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’. This aptly describes the time when the world was hit by a pandemic and we had found ourselves in a position where all our physical activities were suspended. We had no other choice but to come up with a solution to keep the education initiatives running. We resumed our training classes on online apps and conducted Staff meetings more frequently than ever to understand the issues that we were facing and come up with solutions to resolve them.
Tell us about the most difficult case you have worked on.
In all candidness, it is important to let this out that genuinely, everything is difficult before it comes around to becoming easy. It is only in the beginning when we come across a supposedly insurmountable task that we feel uneasy because we do not know what combination of intellect, effort and resources it would take to accomplish it. However, once that is done, in hindsight everything seems achievable. A decade ago when I reached out to companies to hire Deaf workers, it seemed like a futuristic, if not impossible idea by most. Many discouraged me and advised me to stick to conventional job roles and opportunities for them. However, after years of efforts, today it is more likely that one walks into a mall or restaurant and ends up encountering a Deaf salesperson, cashier or crew member.
Recently, when the pandemic hit us and the lockdown was announced, we found ourselves in an unprecedented situation. We were clueless on how to contribute positively despite the gloomy, unforseen times. However, with zeal and determination we began online skill training classes conducted in sign language for Deaf students across the country. Challenges of technology transition, network connectivity and financial burden were tackled head on. Students stuck in villages and cities were undergoing mental health deterioration and we started online counselling as well. With each passing day we made this make- shift arrangement more and more professional with every improvement. Recently, 3 months of training got completed and this difficult phase of the pandemic became synonymous with training and job placement for our students. We celebrated with a virtual graduation ceremony with the realisation that nothing is difficult if you set your mind and heart on the right path.
What kinds of problems do you like to handle? Can you give us an example of how you handle them?
I don’t believe that we get to choose the challenges that fall in our way. If that was the case, we wouldn’t ask for challenging times at all probably. So, I don’t detect or resist any kind of challenge. However, I do choose the intention behind solving problems which are to empower lives and bring about a change. I am working in the social development sector and I am committed to resolving the problems and issues faced by the SHI community. This may range from personal, professional, and familial issues to hearing their criticism of my initiatives for feedback and constantly coming up with new ideas to promote their sustainable livelihood and uplift their status in society.