Sumit Singh Gandhi would travel in small vans throughout his summer internship in Jalandhar. Every day, he would sit alongside hearing impaired children, as he journeyed to his workplace. Being someone who loved to strike up conversations with people, he was dismayed about being unable to communicate with the kids, because he did not know sign language.
Undeterred, he would type on his Blackberry to communicate with them—and it worked! It was this experience that made him wonder, why not use technology to help the hearing impaired?
He nurtured this thought for the next two years. Finally, in 2012 he started Sounds of Silence, one of the first technology-based NGOs with the aim of empowering hearing impaired individuals to help them overcome the communication barrier, and provide a new way to interact with the world.
The pilot project, which started in Delhi, involved collecting old mobile phones with QWERTY keypads, and distributing them among deaf children so that they could easily communicate with people who did not understand sign language.
“What we soon realised was that there were gaps in the education sector. Some of the teachers didn’t know proper English, and there was no set curriculum so that the children could learn. This was what inspired SOS 1.0,” says Sumit speaking to The Better India.
The organisation went to schools for the hearing impaired around Mumbai and developed a curriculum where they taught the children proper grammar and conversational English, through different mediums, such as laptops, mobiles, and projectors.
It was a method which made the students exceedingly comfortable and was easy for them to grasp.
“We have tie-ups with different schools around Mumbai and Pune, and we train students from an early stage. Today, thousands of children across Mumbai, Pune, and Delhi have been trained through our program,” he says.
Even while they were helping children, Sumit realised that other people were facing difficulties finding employment, because of their hearing impairment. This was when he launched SOS 2.0.
Here, people who are no longer in school, are trained in various digital marketing courses, and other skills such as SEO, SMS marketing, e-mail marketing and more, to help them find stable jobs in the market.
The organisation is especially proud of Ubedullah Khan, a 21-year-old whom they trained in digital marketing. Today, he is a social media whiz and the go-to man when SOS faces a social media related problem. His own Instagram page has over 35,000 followers!
“We digitally empower them so as to act as a digital support to a partner firm’s online activities. They are skilled with various computer functions and other software. In fact, they have also been successfully supporting various companies,” explains Sumit.
According to him, SOS has taken up digital marketing projects for several SME’s, and many of them are highly capable of dealing with technology.
Not only have they been trained, but they have also been NIIT certified. In a recent project, employees were involved in CRM (Consumer Relation Management), where they formed chat support and managed end to end relations for small companies.
However, SOS has had its own battles to overcome.
“Alone we can initiate a change, together we can bring a revolution. I strongly believe that a person is never born a leader but can be trained to be one. At Sounds Of Silence we train our fellows to be leaders and create a sustainable impact. We want to build a community that doesn’t want to settle for anything less than what they deserve. Something that, unlike charity is sustainable and empowers them to believe in their capabilities to do more than exist”, he adds.
The organisation itself has received several prestigious awards, including the Helen Keller Award and the Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2015.
Sumit has also been invited to speak at a TEDx event at IIM Kolkata. You can watch an excerpt of one of his speeches below:
He knows that it isn’t easy for the hearing impaired to find good jobs in today’s increasingly competitive job market, but he believes that it is possible through the efforts of his organisation.
In the future, SOS hopes to become a self-sustaining business with over 100 employees and provide support as a chat system to other companies!