Helping India’s Blind Become Seen
(3BL Media/Justmeans) - In the southern Indian state of Kerala, when blind children are unable to go to school, school comes to them through a socially innovative project called Jyothirgamaya, which means “from darkness to light.” A converted rickshaw carries a computer, printer, Braille slates and white canes to homes across the city. The scheme is part of Braille Without Borders, launched in Tibet in 1998 by Sabriye Tenberken, a blind German national with a keen and determined interest to create ethical social change.
Traveling on horseback through the Himalayas, Sabriye discovered that Tibetans, who are generally Buddhists, have a stigma against people with disabilities, especially the blind. Blindness is regarded as a punishment for something you have done in your previous life. Blind children are often neglected, locked away in dark rooms or sent to the streets to beg for money. Experiencing these children’s plight inspired Sabriye to create the foundation Braille Without Borders; launched Jyothirgamaya in 2012 to help children constrained by poverty, disability or distance.
Many parents from poor socioeconomic backgrounds are unable or unwilling to take their blind children to school. Visually impaired children in Kerala do not usually attend special schools and are often not taught Braille or English. Instead, they are taught in the local language of Malayalam through text-recognition software. This mobile blind school has so far helped 15 students, teaching Braille, spoken English, basic maths and computer skills, as well as life skills including personal hygiene and grooming. Yet, crucially, Jyothirgamaya teaches children how to use white canes too, as many blind people in India are dependent on others.
According to the World Health Organisation, 161 million persons live with a disabling visual impairment, of whom 37 million are blind and 124 million are persons with low vision. Every five seconds, someone goes blind. Every minute, a child becomes blind. About 90 per cent of them live in developing countries of Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Pacific Regions. Nine out of ten blind children in the developing world have no access to education. In Tibet, Braille Without Borders is run by the people it serves, empowering blind people from these countries so they can set up projects and schools for other blind people.
Braille Without Borders also runs a larger project based in the South of India, Kanthari, a school for budding social entrepreneurs from marginalised communities worldwide. In 2005 Sabriye co-founded Kanthari, which has international participants who, like Sabriye have a passion to make the world a better place and add strength to be forces of good rather than victims of circumstance.
Photo Credit: Kanthari Website