The phone hasn’t stopped ringing since the night of June 12, 2017, for NL Beno Zephine. The 25-year-old from Chennai was informed by the external affairs ministry on Friday that she has been inducted into the Indian Foreign Service, the first 100 percent visually-challenged person to gain entry into the 69-year-old service. She secured 343rd rank in the 2013-14 Civil Service examination but had to wait for a year for her appointment, as the government worked out the rules to accommodate her. She is presently working as a probationary officer with State Bank of India and is also pursuing a Ph.D. degree.
Zephine credits her parents for what she has achieved, saying her father took her wherever she wanted to go in pursuit of her dreams and managing to buy every book for this purpose. Her mother would assist her in studying the books, sometimes reading them aloud. She used to listen to the 9 o’clock news on All India Radio as a child. She said it helped a lot in her success in the Civil Service Examination.
Her father, Luke Anthony Charles, a railways employee, and mother Mary Padmaja, a homemaker, have been huge sources of inspiration for Beno. Born with the disability, she was educated at the Little Flower Convent for the blind. She transcended the dependence on Braille books by switching to Job Access with Speech (JAWS), a software that allows visually challenged to read from a computer screen, to scan Tamil and English books. She had a normal, happy childhood. Her only brother, Bruno Xavier, works as an engineer in Canada. No one in her family made a big fuss about her disability.
Talking about her love for talking she said,”I was a talkative girl then and I am a talkative woman now. I gave my first public speech when I was in upper KG; I spoke about Jawaharlal Nehru and won my first prize as a speaker – it was a steel plate. After that, there was no stopping me. Instead of wishing me good luck, my teachers used to tell me, ‘we know you are going to bring the cup to the school’. They were that confident about my oratorical skill and I thoroughly enjoyed speaking. The encouragement from my teachers and their confidence in me led to my success in public speaking. In college, I was often made Master of Ceremonies and I loved it.”
Till she was in the tenth standard, her ambition was to become a lawyer or a lecturer. In the eleventh standard, her dream was to be a civil servant, even though she didn’t know what it could offer her. It was just that she was interested in improving society. She didn’t like people wasting water – she used to make a big fuss when someone wasted water. People made fun of her, saying, ‘Here comes the collector.’ This triggered off a spark to prepare for the civil service.
When asked to give a message to youngsters, she said, “Challenges do come, but face them and devise your own strategies. Understand your strengths and weaknesses, “Beno draws her inspiration from American author Helen Adams Keller, who overcame the adversity of being blind and deaf to become one of the 20th century’s leading humanitarians.“I always like the words of Helen Keller where Madam had remarked, ‘I am only one, but I am still one. I cannot do everything, but still, I can do something. And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do’. These words really inspire me. Because I believed that I’d be able to clear civil services exam one day.”