About 30 members of the Sri Sathya Sai Baba Center of Sacramento have been volunteering with Saksham, an NGO from Delhi, India, to help the visually impaired pursue their dreams of pursuing higher education. Sai volunteers, including Sai Spiritual Education (SSE) students, have been proofreading, validating and preparing college/university text books for conversion into Braille and audio books for use by visually impaired college students. The Book Adoption Braille Access (BABA) project was adopted as part of Sri Sathya Sai Baba’s 94th Birthday celebrations in November 2019.

The process begins with volunteers receiving a textbook in PDF format, which is then converted into a Word document using OCR (Optical Character Reader). However, the process is only 90% accurate and some errors are inevitable. Sai volunteers are divided into teams – proofreaders, validators, a compiler and an overall project manager. Proofreaders are each assigned a set of book pages to proofread, compare and fix any errors in those pages. They also implement some specific format guidelines that they are provided with, to prepare the document for the next step of conversion to Braille. Upon completion, they upload the document back into the portal. The document then goes to the team of validators who check the work to ensure all errors are fixed. It is then passed onto the compiler who puts all the pages back together and ensures the formatting is correct. The whole project is overseen by a project manager who coordinates and sends the edited/formatted word document back to the NGO for the next step in the conversion. All volunteers are provided with training prior to taking on the project. What makes this project appealing for volunteers is that work can be done at one’s computer at home,  at one’s own leisure, and does not cost a penny.

One of the directors of the NGO commented, “The importance of accessible digital books rose manifold during the pandemic as several institutions began conducting online open book examinations. The service being offered by the volunteers in producing accessible digital books enables visually impaired students to continue their studies in such challenging times. “

One of the SSE Group 4 student remarked that this was a great opportunity to be of service to others. She enjoyed learning about the importance of teamwork and how teams in the corporate world operate. A very active young adult reflected that the service activity gave her an increased sense of purpose in life and allowed her to set an example for her children to develop a heart for ‘giving back’ and experience the joy of sharing/caring.

Other volunteers remarked on the ease with which they could carry out service from the comfort of their home. They were grateful for the opportunity to be of service especially during the COVID pandemic, and to be intellectually stimulated and occupied while locked down at home.