Srikanth Bolla — a 19-year-old sophomore who is blind — recently realized a dream when he traveled to Hyderabad, India, to develop a computer-training center for visually challenged students.
“If we train the blind to get computer skills, they will excel independently and be able to get good jobs,” he says.
Last year, Bolla shared his dream to create the center with staff at MIT’s Public Service Center, which provided Bolla with a fellowship and the know-how to make his dream come true.
First, he created a curriculum, then with additional grants, he bought five computers, rented a building, hired a faculty member, and began 10-week computer classes. The center now trains 30 blind high school students each year, but with more funding, he hopes to add more computers and more students.
“The best way to narrow the gap between the visually-challenged and others is education,” says this management student, who plans one day to launch a company that develops advanced technologies for multi-disabled people.
Blind since birth, Bolla was raised in a tiny Indian village, where illiteracy is rampant. “Villagers told my parents: ‘He cannot see. Let him die.’ My grandmother said, ‘No. One day he may be useful to our family.’”
“I spent my childhood in loneliness,” he says, adding that he wanted to play sports and games with other children, but they gave him no attention. At age seven, an uncle urged him to enroll in a school for the blind in Hyderabad, a city 250 miles away. Homesick and unhappy, he tried to run away. His uncle asked him gently: “What kind of life will you have at home?”
Soon after, Bolla made a commitment to excel. “I worked hard, and I never looked back.” First, he learned Braille, then English, then how to use a computer. He won awards in debating, creative writing, chess, and blind cricket. He became the school’s top student.
Bolla loved science, but blind students in India were allowed to study only the arts. He and a teacher fought his case before the school board and won. Now, thanks to his efforts, all blind students in India can study science beyond grade 10. “I refused to let my disability interfere with my dreams,” he says.
Bolla, who now stars on a blind baseball team in Cambridge, is working with the Board of Education in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh to get his computer-training course accredited. His other goals include expanding the computer center to several locations in India, finding jobs for trained students, and raising money to educate more young people.
“My lifetime ambition is to become the President of India,” says Bolla, who was a member of Lead India 2020, a national movement to train youth in leadership, human values, and employment skills. The idea is that the transformed 540 million youth would lead India to become a developed nation by 2020. In 2010, Bolla received an excellence award from that organization from the former President of India.
“I want to dedicate my life to community and social service,” he says. “I want a place in society where people look up to me as a role model and great leader.”