Paul Kronenberg: How kanthariens are Bringing out Positive Difference Without Borders?

Paul Kronenberg Image
Courtesy: India Inclusion Summit 2014

It took us couple of calls and some help from local citizens to reach this place, a lush green campus protected by tall see through compound walls on three sides (fourth side is a lake!!) at Trivandrum. Couple of marvelous red brick and mud buildings and the posters of the work that graduates of the institute have carried out are not the first things you notice here. Instead, the pedal pumps, water channel to safeguard building from rodents, a hut with 2 litre coke bottle as 50 watt natural light bulbs, waste management, solar panels- we were taught the “natural” art of living! We spent a couple of hours overlooking the serene view of typical Kerala palms and the big beautiful lake, listening to the genius who facilitated the change with Sabriye Tenberken, a blind lady from Germany, and here on a mission to create many changemakers who can make this world a better place, co-founder of kanthari, Paul Kronenberg. (Read Paul Kronenberg Biography)

Your meeting with Sabriye Tenberken

I was working as a service coordinator in a bungalow park in Holland. I did 4 different technical studies and in between I worked in projects in several developing countries around the world.

Paul Kronenberg with Sabriye Tenberken
Paul Kronenberg with Sabriye Tenberken

I was lucky I met Sabriye in Tibet in 1997. I was traveling as a backpacker; Sabriye was already there with the goal of finding out about the lives of blind people in Tibet.

Sabriye went on to become Nobel Peace Prize nominee and Young Global Leader

The work of Braille Without Borders and kanthari has been recognized by several organisations and governments as groundbreaking, impactful and mindset changing. Among such recognitions Sabriye was nominated for the Peace Nobel Prize.

Braille Without Borders in Tibet

Braille Without Borders is very simple; blind people are discriminated against and what we try and do is give them an opportunity to learn. By learning they get skills, skills gives someone value, and value leads to dignity. When you have dignity nobody can touch you and that gives you self-confidence, and that’s really what you need in life.

With Braille Without Borders we started a preparatory school. We started a vocational training centre where blind students can chose to be trained in  market gardening, agriculture, baking bread, kitchen management, compost production, knitting, carpet weaving, cheese production; about ten to twelve professions that were never done with blind people anywhere in the world. We also started a Braille printing press and last but not least a so called “self-integration “ program where the blind student integrates him/herself into regular schools. We promote the right to be blind without being disabled.

Black clouds started setting in and we could hear a buzz that told us that rains are arriving in a couple of minutes. And it did!

“kanthari”- The Kerala Spice

A kanthari is a plant that grows wild in every backyard of Kerala, a small but very spicy chili with a number of medicinal values. A kanthari is a symbol for those who have the guts to challenge harmful traditions and the status quo, who have fire in their belly and a lot of innovative ideas to make a positive difference. kanthari for us was the logical next step. We wanted to have our former students running the show in Tibet in the future so initially we thought we were just going to train blind people but then Sabriye and I took a step back and saw that there are so many universal issues and there are so many people involved in these problems and issues who want to drive change.kanthari kerala

Grooming Visionaries for Social Change

We train visionaries who have overcome adversity and are keen to drive ethical social change

Watching the news you see that the world is in crisis. We need individuals who come up with solutions for social problems. At kanthari we work with people who have overcome adversity and because of this carry a plan for social change. Our participants have been affected by social ills such as war, discrimination, exclusion etc.  They however have the strength to be forces of good, not victims of circumstance.

One interesting small story of the impact created by a social visionary you have trained

Jane Waithera is from Kenya.  Jane is a person living with Albinism{Albinism is a defect of melanin production that results in little or no color (pigment) in the skin, hair, and eyes}. This means that she lacks melanin and her skin is white. In East Africa it is believed that possessing a body part of an Albino brings good luck. Therefore Albinos are killed and their body parts sold for lots of money. Jane is a 2009 kanthari graduate Since her return home she has been fighting for the rights of Albinos. Over the past 5 years we trained 98 participants from 35 countries. The graduates have started over 65 projects and initiatives and reach thousands of beneficiaries.

Paul Kronenberg Image
Courtesy: India Inclusion Summit 2014

The theme of India Inclusion Summit– “Everyone is Good at Something” is very apt and I think it is a great platform that can inspire mass to work for an ethical social change. I look forward for the event where I’ll share many such stories of kanthariens!

It had rained very heavily for an hour and now, it had stopped. Water surrounding the hut (where we were sitting) had submerged with the lake. So did us. We always used, wasted & utilized the water from the lake, sometimes, may be excessively, but we never thought, prayed or ensured a good rainfall. Today, our thirst was quenched and the Sun had risen! In the form of kanthari and kanthariens. May your goodwill & groundwork create a much needed beautiful dent on the universe!

KnowYourStar.com (KYS) interviewed Paul Kronenberg as part of India Inclusion Summit 2014(IIS), scheduled on 28th and 29th November, 2014. IIS is a platform that brings awareness and drives inclusion of specially-abled people at corporates, schools, policy makers and NGOs. KYS is the official blogging partner for IIS and backs the event whole-heartedly in a thirst to see an #InclusiveIndia.

*NOTE: kanthari started its intake process for the upcoming kanthari training course which starts in May 2015. Have you overcome adversity and because of that carry a plan for social change? Then learn more about kanthari and apply  

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