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With an EYE on the BALL

For society to recognise disability sport on a par with regular sport, George Abraham set up the World Blind Cricket Council and Association for Cricket for the Blind in India. K. PRADEEP profiles the man

Pics: N. Balaji.

GEORGE ABRAHAM never felt he was different. He had problems deciphering the letters and figures on the school blackboard, always preferred to write on blank sheets than on the ruled ones, knew he could not play cricket like the other boys of his age, but was never made conscious that he was handicapped.

When he was 10 months old meningitis had left its scars on the boy, badly damaging his optic nerves and retina, leaving him partially blind.

"I was lucky to have very positive and understanding parents. They sent me to mainstream schools, they encouraged me to play cricket, never giving me a feeling that I was handicapped in any way," Mr. Abraham recalled.

He went on to complete his degree in mathematics, with economics and philosophy as subsidiary subjects from St. Stephen's College, New Delhi.

Then went on to do his post graduation from the same institution in Operations Research. He then plunged into advertising, taking up jobs with some leading firms like Ogilvy and Mather.

The turning point in his career came when he visited a school for the visually challenged in Delhi.

"It was in 1989. I was going to such a school for the first time in my life. Then I realised that the quality of education in these schools was woefully inadequate. I understood that I had the best of the opportunities only because my parents were very liberal. But this does not happen to all the visually challenged children in our country."

This feeling made him shun his career and work for his less fortunate counterparts.

"What we often lack is confidence, proper mobility. The visually challenged are often looked upon with sympathy, which is not what they want. They need to be recognised and appreciated for their talent."

There was nothing better to attain this than sports. Mr. Abraham decided to introduce the visually challenged to the thrill of cricket.

"I had seen visually challenged children play cricket in Dehra Dun. I thought of turning this into a national affair.

What I wanted to instil in them was a will to win in real competitive cricket, not just tap around in the backyard. The first national tournament was hosted in Delhi in 1990.

It was during this time that `Score' (Society for Communication and Research) was formed and this virtually launched me into the disability sector."

At the Ahmedabad nationals in 1993 Mr. Abraham made a formal announcement that a World Cup for the visually challenged would soon be held in India .

"Even those close to me did not believe me. But this was my dream and I also knew that I had to set similar dreams for my friends."

In 1996 Mr. Abraham set up the World Blind Cricket Council and the Association for Cricket for the Blind in India (ACBI), which had members from seven nations - England, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa and Pakistan.

They formed a standard set of international rules and in 1998 the first World Cup was held in Delhi.

When New Zealand opted out as hosts in 2002, India organised the event in Chennai and the 2006 edition will be held in Cape Town, South Africa.

The need of the hour is to recognise disability sport on a par with regular sport and not just entertainment game.

The Government also needs to have a policy change on the subject.

"We need a helping hand and will work to this goal till we get the Government to look to our direction."

The society also needs to change its attitude towards the visually challenged.

Many parents of the visually challenged miss the boat by worrying what their child cannot do instead of seeing what he can do. Hence, in order to motivate wilted spirits, Mr. Abraham conducts workshops where he treats the visually challenged psychologically on personality development and tells them about the opportunities for them. "One factor that helped me succeed was my ability to communicate. So I embarked on a series of communication workshops throughout the country. I must have conducted at least around 40 of them with the idea of helping the people realise the importance of communication skills." To achieve this Mr. Abraham launched, a new project, which is aimed at the need to inform, inspire and to include.

Among the other projects that Mr. Abraham is working on are a handbook on Inclusive Education, which is due for publication in August-September this year and a book on his own life experiences, titled `I Can Dream Too.'

Mr. Abraham, along with a friend, has also set up the Catalyst Management with an object of identifying talent in music among the visually challenged.

"This is a commercial venture, the returns will be go back to the talented musicians. We want to identify and launch them into a career in music.

It will also include grooming them for a proper stage presence and to give a total lift to their personality.

If everything works well we will have our first performance sometime this August."

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