"Providing tools for living and learning for blind young people in Africa"
With increasing knowledge of the lifestyle of the many blind young people who write, has come an understanding of their social and personal needs. Blind students are often marginalised in schools, largely because teachers of classes of up to eighty with, perhaps, half a dozen blind students, have neither the time nor the equipment to give the blind special attention. As a result of such neglect many of the blind pupils become even more determined to learn and to gain educational qualifications. Once given the appropriate materials, they have every chance of passing examinations and are prepared to spend long periods each day studying. The opportunity to learn is very precious to them and, with Blindaid help, they become determined to learn and participate in school life. Without this help, simply because they are blind, they tend to be ostracised or simply disregarded by the sighted students who regard them as useless, unable to move around unaided or join in games.
Teachers and blind students alike tell us that attitudes are changing with the arrival of parcels from Blindaid Africa. The specialised material sent to them from England is giving the blind an advantage in both school and leisure activities. Those who are talented musically enjoy learning to play a keyboard. One school particularly asked for a tambourine which was supplied by a member of the Midsomer Norton Salvation Army. Sighted students gather around to listen to recorded books. Even they do not have a ready supply of reading material,nor do they have the means to attend a football match, or radios to listen to broadcast commentaries. Football is a very popular sport in Africa, and as three boys wrote:
“You have added pleasure to our leisure, now we can watch football on the radio with our sighted friends”
In 2003 the Somerset Football Association donated twenty audible
footballs, one for each of the schools supported by Blindaid Africa at that time. Norton Sports Centre offered a pump to accompany each ball. As news of this gesture spread, many different football clubs in the area donated football kit. Each of twenty integrated schools in Central Africa received an audible ball, a pump and clothing sufficient for two teams. Sighted students do not often possess a football, they kick around something made of paper mache. It is possible for the blind to play, using an audible ball which rattles as it moves. Integrated teams were set up, and some schools participated in the Zimbabwean National Paralympics. Twenty sets of football shirts and shorts were again provided in 2007.
Here is a short movie of blind people playing with the audible football.
Simple games such as Take Four, Dominoes, playing cards, Checkers and Noughts and Crosses can be adapted for use by the blind. These give them a lot of pleasure and the companionship of their sighted peers, increasing their self esteem and gaining the respect of those who do not always win.
In 2000 a tactile chess set was given to Blindaid Africa and was sent to Domasi College of Education in Malawi, along with a complicated set of instructions which had been read onto tape. The English reader did not understand these rules clearly, but they sufficed to make the game enjoyable to the three blind students in the Domasi College of Education at that time. Following enthusiastic reports about chess for the blind in Malawi, three sets were sent to the University of Zimbabwe. Once again, they were very well received and chess became a popular student pastime. A university chess club was founded with thirty-three blind members. On hearing this, Father Michael of Downside Abbey made three boards himself and organised funding for another dozen sets. In 2003 Mr. Booker Chiparaushe, Resource Centre Co-ordinator of the University of Zimbabwe, arranged for “Chess for the Blind” to be included in the National Paralympics. Blindaid Africa donated another adapted chess set as first prize. The chess games were successful and very popular, and are to be included permanently in the paralympic programme.
All of these leisure activities are helping young blind Africans to become participating, respected members of their communities. They are happy and proud to share their advantages with their new sighted friends.