August 18, 2016
Beno Zephine was provided a level playing field to succeed and she proved herself beyond measure.
And here she was addressing the students of Kumaraguru College of Technology (KCT) in Coimbatore as the first 100 per cent visually-challenged Indian Foreign Service officer to step into the 69-year-old service.
The 26-year-old civil servant told the students if they want to be part of the country’s growth story they must prepare themselves with focus.
Obsessed with the idea of preserving water from a young age, Zephine said patriotism should not be merely symbolic, it should be, for instance, start with steps to protect and nurture the nation’s resources.
“Strengthen your strengths and weaken your weaknesses, and never be limited by limitations,” she said.
She asked them to give up mundane practices like messaging on mobile phones and exchanging meaningless conversations.
Zephine warned not to reduce education to rote learning, and understanding what we learn is vital.
She shared tips like relating facts to events, thereby expanding the general knowledge, too.
“Education will sustain you till the very end,” she said.
And if you are a civil servant, you have the privilege of making policies for the country, Zephine said.
She urged the students to read the newspaper every day to know what’s happening in your country and around the world, and develop their communication skills and writing capabilities.
“Whichever profession you are in, it’s important to communicate effectively and write sense, and here communication doesn’t mean speaking fluently in English. It means saying whatever you say with coherance.”
“Behind every successful person there is a history of some smart work, determination, perseverance and dedication,” she said citing examples such as Helen Keller, Kalpana Chawla, Albert Einstein, Mother Teresa and Thomas Alva Edison.
Zephine followed her civil services dream single mindedly after she announced as a 12th grader at the Global Young Leaders Conference in Washington: “I have a vision to become a civil servant.”
Adversity brings opportunity, said the officer who read and was read to by her family and friends.
“I read on Braille and my mother, who has studied up to just grade 10, read to me for four to five hours a day,” she said to a thunderous applause from the audience.
I used to hang out with friends who accompanied me to the cinema, beach and for shopping, and who most importantly read books for me, she said.
Zephine also complemented Braille with the Job Access With Speech (JAWS) software to read from a computer screen, to scan Tamil and English books. The software can also be installed on a smart phone.
Her exemplary oration was interspersed with wit when she drew cinematic instances and college slangs to get her views across to the audience.
Responding to a question from the audience, Zephine stressed that patriarchy stemmed from women leaving the decision making to exclusively men. “It’s important for women to help themselves to the right of making decisions.”
Born into a middle class family, Zephine did her college at Stella Maris, Chennai, and her post-graduation at the University of Madras.
She attributed her success to her father who believed in her and spend a lot of time helping her pursue her ambition.
Zephine said Kingmaker’s IAS Academy in Chennai made her what she is today. The three-year-old academy, made of IAS and other civil servants, trains civil service aspirants with 23 of them achieving realizing their dreams.
Dr R S Kumar, principal of KCT, in his welcome address called the event the first of its kind as the guest was unique, and said Zephine was a role model for students.
Joint correspondent Shankar Vanavarayan in his address said, Zephine is a shining example of those who stepped out of their comfort zone to carve success. “She achieved not being distracted by many things, like many of us are.”