Apr 21, 2008

Praful Lakhani (NRI businessman) runs school for deaf

Success, wealth and a good life - Praful Lakhani, a hearing impaired non-resident Indian, had it all. But he decided to run a school in Ahmedabad for children with similar problems and has several other philanthropic activities planned in Gujarat.

"It is not borne out of any instinct of spiritualism. It is all about corporate responsibility in its real sense," Lakhani, 60, who now lives in Ahmedabad but frequently, travels to New York, told reporters.

A mechanical engineer by profession, he is the promoter of the US-based Reliable Group. The group provides business management software and IT services to companiesthat seek to revamp operations, accounting and management.

Lakhani, 60, is now running a unique school in Ahmedabad where deaf children overcome their impairment.

Ironically, Lakhani too is afflicted by the problem. But he has overcome the handicap by learning to read lip movement. He is now passing on the benefit to hearing impaired children.

In response to a question as what made him turn to such children, Lakhani revealed how he overcame his handicap. He said: "Even now I am answering your questions by reading your lip movement."

Lakhani said his NRI friend based in New York had launched the school. He was finding it difficult to run it. "I decided to take over. It is as if the project fell on my lap," he said.

The school called Umang has a research centre and library. Umang is among the few research centres that develop materials such as books and media for the hearing impaired. The centre also trains nurses and healthcare professionals on how to detect loss of hearing in newborn infants.

He said: "Umang works with government and non-government agencies to bring about awareness of various in the area of disability due to hearing impairment. We have plans to set up an audio logical service centre and an ear mould laboratory, a mobile diagnostic units and a computer centre".

In the ear mould laboratory, the objective is to make customized moulds. The customized moulds will then be fitted in the hearing aids, so that they work better. Without the moulds, the efficacy of a hearing aid is only 80 per cent.

"Once it is known that a child has overcome hearing impairment, he or she is sent to a regular school. Umang's goal is to bring the afflicted children to the mainstream of life," said Lakhani.

"Umang provides educational services to 150 children free of cost through its school, which was set up in 2003."

The school will now have its own building to be constructed on a plot of 5,000 square yards in the heart of the city.

On what motivated him to focus on charitable causes, Lakhani said: "Coming from a middle class background, I am aware that my success was sparked by some key people whom I met in life, who inspired me to achieve my financial goals. I believe that it is repayment time for me. So I want to support, motivate others to reach their full potential."

Lakhani said: "I do not believe in big vision or mission statements to make it known that one is socially responsible. A simple vision is enough for one to make a mark in life."

He has many dreams. One of them is transforming rural economy. He has picked up an obscure village called Dhaboda in Gandhinagar district for the transformation experiment. The village, whose main occupation is farming, will now have a school, hospital and an integrated township. The project is in the planning stage.

Another project of Lakhani is to set up information kiosks. Namaste Indya Communications Private Limited (NICPL), a media management company that Lakhani launched, installed its first kiosk called E-Pothis (public utility information kiosks) at the city's municipal bus stand area called Lal Darwaja.

This is the first private sector project that will finance and manage public utility information kiosks. It is proposed to launch 4,000 E-Pothis all over Gujarat with an investment of Rs.800 million.