The Sound of Silence: Yogesh is shattering the sound barrier for deaf kids across Maharashtra

“My son was 1.5 years old when we realized that he couldn’t hear. He was 95% deaf and we didn’t even know. That’s not unusual. Most parents don’t realize there’s a problem until their child turns three. As soon as we got the diagnosis, we fitted Prasoon with a hearing aid and started speech therapy. Once he started speaking, we enrolled him in a mainstream school.

At the time, I was a primary school teacher in Shetphal village in Solapur district, who also worked for an NGO that helps farmers produce high-quality pomegranates. In 2009, I participated in CORO’s Grassroots Leadership Development Program. The facilitators encouraged me to work on an issue that I cared about and gave me the tools to start my own organization. I had an MA and a diploma in education, but these were just pieces of paper. They didn’t prepare me for grassroots work. The CORO staff taught me how to file RTIs, research government schemes, and conduct surveys. By the end of the fellowship, ‘Voice of the Voiceless’ was born.

I know other parents with deaf children, but none have started organizations or engaged in political advocacy. They’re content with giving their child the best possible care. I’m different because of CORO.

In 2013, I was chosen for CORO’s advanced leadership development program. That’s when I realized that deaf children miss out on early interventions because anganwadi workers don’t know how to test an infant’s hearing. Imagine a three-year-old boy who has never heard a sound. Physically he is 3, but his ears are 0 days old. They have so much catching up to do.

That’s why my organization invented the ‘taat vati’ test. All that’s required is for an aanganwadi worker to remain out of sight and bang a ‘katori’ against a ‘thali’. During a week-long camp, 4,250 aanganwadi workers tested 2.87 lakh kids and diagnosed 89 with hearing impairments.

I’m now working with the government to conduct this test on all children between 0-6 years in Solapur district. The plan is to pick one block where we eradicate deafness through hearing aids and speech therapy. This pilot project will judge our success rate against deaf kids in the rest of the district. Another big win was the government sanctioning the ‘Deaf Not Dumb’ Yojana that allocates Rs 1 lakh for each child diagnosed with a hearing impairment. The scheme is named after a book I co-wrote with my wife. She is now a speech therapist.

As for Prasoon, he is a 19-year-old college student, doing his FYBA. I credit him with starting us on this journey, and CORO with showing us the way.”