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Dear friends and supporters of Braille Without Borders,
This year we’ve traveled around the world several times to work on
fundraising for the future security of the centre in Tibet and the new
international training centre in the South of India.
Despite the presence of BWB in the world media, collecting the
necessary funds still isn’t easy nor has it been sufficient to meet the
demands of the project as it matures.
And so, on behalf of the Tibetan blind children and all our
staffmembers, we would like to thank you for your valuable and much
needed support. We would appreciate your ongoing help whether in cash,
kind or simply spreading the news about this project, which you have so
kindly supported. (Possibilities
From a winterly cold but sunny Tibet we wish you merry Christmas and a
happy New Year!
Students and staff,
Sabriye Tenberken, Paul Kronenberg
Today is Women's day. Not the
international but a typical Tibetan celebration with its own
traditions. Women and girls, even the smallest, have the right to ask
men and boys for money. On Lhasa's streets and marketplaces you observe
women and girls who confidently stop male passers by. And they don't
let them go unless they pay a little toll to the female citizens. In
shops, Cafes and restaurants all over Tibet one sees men nervously
changing bigger bills into smaller ones.
"A ridiculous tradition!", a tourist moans, "Tibetan women have the
power over everything anyway!"
Though not completely true, his remark bears some truth. Compared with
other cultures, women in Tibetan society have a relatively “stronger
than equal status”. No one is surprised of female school principals,
business managers or women in high governmental positions. Women work
as lawyers, earn their bread as taxi drivers and run large agricultural
farms, all professions which are predominantly occupied by men in India
and neighboring countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh and the
‘Stans’ to the north of Tibet.
In our project too it is mainly the women, and especially the new
blind teachers Kyila and Yudon, who are managing most of the important
tasks even to negotiating with government officials. In addition, they
cope at present with difficult neighbours. Together with a Tibetan
who offers his service ‘pro bono’ to BWB, they managed to stop illegal
construction plans on an adjacent property. Our direct neighbours want
to build a four story building which would put our courtyard and garden
in shadow. Even when Kyila and Yudon are reasoning with the lawbook in
hand,the Tibetan lawyer remains sceptical: "What does a law mean in a
society where the legal issues are still in their puberty and not taken
seriously by most?”
The new independence:
The training centre in Tibet has always been a "help for self-help"
In 2006 the project entered an important phase: a "DIY", do-it-yourself
phase, in which our Tibetan colleagues are doing more and more
Important tasks which Paul and I handled till now, such as bookkeeping,
scheduling and planning of curricula and meeting officials have been
the most part handed over to our Tibetan colleagues.
This important step towards project independance did not, nor does not
come easy. Some of our staff members could not cope with this new
situation and with the larger responsibilities that came with it and so
chose to withdraw from the project. In the meantime several former
students of the BWB centre have replaced those staff members. The new
and very young colleagues are highly motivated and engaged. They have
felt free and confident enough to work on developing new teaching
methods and plans and in this way create new
The high motivation of our new teachers is not always welcomed by some
older staff. "They’re still too young!" complained a longtime employed
teacher about her new colleagues who were once her students.
"How old do you have to be, to have your own ideas?" is Kyila’s
question. She has just returned from a year’s study in England with
interesting new ideas and plans for the project.
Kyila, together with Yudon, a former student who has studied in a
regular school in Tibet, have reformed the English and Chinese
curricula and have organized new teaching materials. They have also, on
their own, redecorated, rearranged and reorganized our child-care
center, the Mouse Class. Gyenzen, a former student, now heads the
Braille- printing division and takes care of the braille text book
needs of our students who are studying in regular government schools.
These young teachers, called, the Gang of Three, try too to break old,
negative work habits that creep in over time.
"Those who can’t make it to work have to find their own
substitutes.” And, “Those teachers who sub for another, have to
find THEIR own substitute.” The cook recently moaned that it was
never this strict before. New Brooms sweep clean. The ‘new brooms’
finally, are young, energetic, motivated and Tibetan.
"I don't want to be given orders by my former students," grumbles
"We can run the project independently only if we work together," agree
Kyila, Yudon and Gyenzen who seem surprised and disappointed at the
reaction of some of their older collegues. Paul and I try to stay out
of these internal conflicts as much as possible. However we are quite
happy about the fresh air and the positive mood our new young staff
bring to the project. This transfers
to the kids. We hope and trust too that our rookie management will be
to advice from their elders while keeping their youthful enthusiasm.
The massage clinic is the result of
training in massage and physiotherapy. The clinic was founded over two
ago by the first massage graduates, Kyila and Digi. They were joined
by three more graduates, Tenzing, Tashi and Drolma. They have since
renting and renovating five additional rooms.
Today the clinic offers a variety of massages: Chinese massage, Thai
massage, physiotherapy, accupressure and oil massage. The clinic is
situated in the centre of Lhasa on the main road opposite the Kyichu
Hotel. The clinic has proved to be a star attraction for tourists, both
western and asian, and has placed posters in the better hotels and
restaurants throughout Lhasa.
The clinic too has achieved a degree of independence. It no longer
requires subsidies from BWB and handles its own accounting and
Their manner of appointing management has evolved. Originally the
traditional Tibetan attitude prevailed: responsible positions would go
to the eldest. In other words no special talents or qualifications were
required other than the accumulation of years. They too, it was
expected, would earn the most and work the least. (Sound familiar?
Maybe Tibetans aren’t the only guilty ones.) But eventually it was
agreed upon that the manager should be the
one who could motivate, encourage, and communicate with colleagues,
customers and officials. And remember, we live in a tri-lingual
Tibetan and English. And so whom did they choose? They chose the
among them, seventeen year old Lobsang, from Lhatse. And Tenzing was
as Accountant, not because he’s the most reliable when it comes to
Under their leadership, the clinic has expanded, and now boasts of a
neon sign overlooking the main road (see above) and gives numerous
interviews on local TV and radio.
Training Farm in Shigatse
While the “Farm” is essentially a vocational training center for blind
young adults from the neighboring counties, it also provides
residential facilities for blind students who have gained admission in
the neighboring government ‘normal’ school. This year seven more blind
students from our project in Lhasa joined the three original students,
Dachung, Panden and Gyumi.
Teachers are so happy with them that they have requested we send all we
This has been a happy development since the arrangement with the
school officials broke down. Having ‘academic’ blind students resident
the farm has created or renewed an interest in our blind ‘vocational’
in learning to read and write. They have begun attending, freely, the
tuition classes that the Farm offers to the academic residents.
Carpet weaving growing vegetables
The vocational training farm is attempting to build up a quality dairy
herd, improve the care and rearing of riding horses and organize the
piggery and poultry. The animal husbandry unit has been consolidated on
one plot that used to be army barracks. The Tibetan manager has a
residence on site in a house provided for him in the Tibetan style as
are the new stables for the horses and cows. Our resident Tibetan
semi-mastiff fathered eighteen puppies!
Most have found homes in our kids’ families. But a half dozen or so
been adopted by our children here on the farm. The ‘adoption’ process
a lot of cuddling and personal bonding not to mention a philosophy of
is mine is yours’, ‘mi casa, su casa’. And so the puppies enjoy a
course of cardio work out with the kids on our gym’s treadmill: the
evolved by the kids, begins with the puppies running on their front
their back legs and then on all four, lovingly supported of course.
The system was pioneered by a German/Dutch association called Ecosan,
which stands for ‘ecofriendly sanitation.’ It has been tested
in central Europe and Asia. Its central feature is the separation of
urine from faeces by means of a simple yet clever partition in the
toilet bowl itself. The former is directed into a holding tank until it
can be used as urea on the fields. The latter is directed into a south
facing holding pit where, because it is drier to begin with, quickly
composts. In addition, the
system saves water. Leaves, ash, earth, etc are used instead, a
container of which is kept in the cubicle and is added to the faeces
recepticle, after use. The students, and staff!, were instructed in the
advantages, use and daily maintenance of the system. The system can be
installed easily in the most remote rural Tibetan homes. It furthermore
provides input for organic agriculture and the importance of using
organic methods in Tibet soil where the organic component can be less
(Further information about the Ecosan system: http://www.ecosanres.org)
Kyila teaches the Mouse class
Dawa feeds our cows
This autumn the work on the composting factory entered its final phase.
The building was completed,featuring ten cubicles on one side for 10
pairs of opposing composting boxes,(for easy turning, not only blind
but also sighted-friendly!) with cubicles on the other side for storing
and mulching straw,grass,leaves,paper etc. Mulching/cutting/hacking
machines, in three sizes have arrived on site. The north and south
sides are divided by a corridor wide enough for a tractor and trailer
to drive through with materials and/or compost. The compost factory is
situated adjacent to six organic green houses.
Mini Square Meter Greenhouses.
The farm has introduced a method of kitchen gardening practiced for
many years on the terraced mountain sides of Darjeeling in India.
Originally designed to grow produce on narrow terraced mountain sides,
it is especially suitable to blind gardening. Each bed is one square
meter. Planting is done by placing individual seeds through holes
punched in a template, ie., planting-by-braille. The beds are arranged
adjacent to each other and form a line as long or as short as required.
The beds are separated from the path by a raised barrier to prevent the
farmer (blind or sighted) from walking on the earth that is growing for
them. Being a meter wide, each plant in the bed can be attended
individually and conveniently. The beds are covered by shade cloth or
plastic depending on weather conditions. The cloth or plastic is
supported by arches, one meter high, made from any sturdy but flexible
material. These mini green houses are exceptionally easy to maintain
and inexpensive to construct. One bed costs us one euro and can be
replicated easily in rural Tibetan households. Several local NGO’s, the
Swiss Red Cross, have adopted the system and are implementing them in
the local villages.
A German animal husbandry expert, Boris Schiele, gave a course to our
staff and students in the care of dairy cows. The emphasis was on diet
a main requirement in quality organic milk production. A
individual feeding program was taught to the students. This was
since we grow our own fodder on our own fields. As a result, the
pattern of grains and fodder was reorganized with the dairy herd in
New stables were created with ease of work-space for the blind in mind.
The milk goes into cheese production in our own cheese production unit.
Incidentally, the popularity of our organic cheese is growing. Two
staff, one sighted and one legally blind (though improving after an
operation) returned recently from a practical course in cheese
production in Holland. Stores
as far away as Shanghai have expressed an interest in our unique blend
European and Tibetan cheeses. Our dream of course is that our students
eventually be able to contribute to the financing of the farm and/or
up little home-units in their home villages.
Totnes School, England.
This year two of our blind
part in an English course in England. Kyila graduated from the
Intermediate as well as the Advanced Intermediate courses offered by
Totnes school in England. Nyima studied in the same school and
graduated from the Pre-intermediate section. They studied together with
sighted students from Europe and Asia.
The Braille learning materials were partly printed in our own
Braille-book-production printing house and were partly supplied by the
Like their sighted fellow students, both were integrated with local
host families and were soon able to find their way around Totnes.
Neither Kyila nor Nyima had problems finding friends and thanks to the
enthusiastic help of their teachers and hosts could follow the classes
Kyila and Nyima who are both very independent were soon able to make
small trips on their own, once travelling to London by
Cornelia van der Horst-Tenberken visited them regularly monitoring
their well-being and progress.
During their stay in Totnes, Kyila and Nyima wished to go to visit a
school for the blind in England to get some ideas for the school in
We felt a bit uneasy at first. We thought that in comparison with
English blind schools they would get the impression that our school in
Lhasa was rather backward. We didn't want them to be discouraged.
However we were finally quite surprised by their reaction. Both were,
as expected, amazed at the advanced
computer equipment and the technical knowledge of the English blind
However they also seemed amused by the "interesting" but
gadgets such as machines that tell the blind if a glass is full or not
those which tell you whether its raining outside or whether the sun is
But then Kyila and Nyima were mutually agreed on one point: blind
children that go to the school in Lhasa were more advanced in the use
of braille than those blind people whom they met during their stay in
England. "They just work with talking books and speach synthesisers,”
says Nyima, "this has
nothing to do with real reading." And Kyila noted that while blind
students in Tibet have no problem using the white cane as a walking
aid, "blind people in England seem to be more shy. They don't want to
be acknowledged as a blind
person and so they cannot imagine travelling independently.”
Norbu and Chungla in the
cheesefarm "De Heileuver" in Holland
Norbu and Chungla in Cheese Paradise:
Holland, September 2006.
Norbu, 16 years old, student of the first BWB generation, travelled to
Ommen in the east of Holland, in September 2006. He went together with
one of our longterm sighted employees and cheesemakers to the home and
Marinus and Joke Post to learn more about professional cheese
Marinus wrote enthusiastically about the motivation of his Tibetan
students and Norbu and Chungla were as amazed at what they had learned
in such a short time.
Both were taught how to make different cheeses, how to handle special
cheesemaking equipment and received training in dairy cattle. Mike, our
Cannadian collegue on the farm in Shigatse is happy to be the test
and beneficiary of their newly acquired expertese: cheese with onions,
and local herbs, cheese with sun dried tomatoes, cheese with nuts and
and on. Their experimental enthusiasm has no limits so they require
gentle advice restraining them on occasion!
The building of the international centre for development and project
planning continues successfully. The centre is situated on the edge of
a freshwater lake, only 10 Kilometers from Trivandrum, the capital city
It is built in ecological style, with rainwater harvesting, a bio gas
construction, solar energy, with the possibility for a windmill
The center will be for blind and
persons, from all over the world, who hope to initiate their own
for the blind of their own countries and regions. The training
take one year and will feature courses in fund raising, project
planning, IT-communication and English.
Co-founder and the first staff members are: Raja Bhadresh, Tigi Phillip
Bhadresh is a very engaged co-founder of the Braille-Without-Borders
charity trust in Trivandrum, South India. Professionally, he manages an
advertising agency and takes care of all legal matters.
Tigi Phillip: managing director. Tigi has an MBA degree. She comes
originally from Kerala but worked and lived in Germany and the
US. She speaks Hindi, the local language Malayalam, English and
German. She contacts government officials and liases wotj the local
ministry of education. She is also currently looking for staff
and a capable director for the center.
Renjith: coordinates the construction
side of things and sends regular reports of the construction process.
This year thanks to the help of Kelsang Dodin and the local government
in Ladakh provided land for a future training centre for the blind.
The organizers of this training centre will work together with the
Mahabody centre, that has already begun an elementary school for blind
children. Braille Without Borders will support this cooperation as much
Some Miscellaneous Current Happenings:
- Nyima Wangdu had an eye operation in
Europe. In Germany he stayed with Mr. Rothaupt, and in England with
Mrs. Li. He now sports a sparkling eye prostheses and a T-Shirt
announcing: "I look good
on the dance floor".
- First fundraising tour in China
In September, four of our students travelled to Shen Zhen, to introduce
our project, through songs, dances and speeches. The students,
accompanied by our former cook, were invited by a famous Chinese
mountain climber and business person known as Wong Shi. Wong has
generously supported the project this year and wants to help in the
future. Our four blind students had the opportunity of feeling,
touching, smelling and experiencing the ocean off mainland China at
- Marketing course
Six students and two staff participated in a marketing course,
organized by the American business expert Matthew McGarvey. Together
they developed ideas for securing the future of the project. One of the
ideas proposed by the students was a hotel designed and managed for and
by blind persons.
Delegation of North Korea
The organisation Handicap International, invited a delegation of
officials from North Korea to visit projects for the handicapped in
Tibet. They visited our center and were impressed enough to invite us
to North Korea. The meeting was a friendly one promising future
BLINDSIGHT: The documentary
The film Blindsight is a documentary about our blind teenaged students’
attempt to summit Lakhpa Ri in the autumn of 2004. Lhakpa Ri is a 7100
meter peak adjacent to Mt. Everest. Six of our blind students, boys and
attempted the summit with Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind man to
Everest. The film had its world premiere at the Toronto International
Festival on September 11.
Thanks to the artistic work of the editor Sebastian Duthy, the film
music composer Nitin Sawhney, the well known director Lucy Walker and
thanks to the great engagement of the producer Sybil Robson Orr, it has
received several awards. More info: http://www.blindsightthemovie.com
New book: "Das siebte Jahr," (The Seventh Year)
My newest book, "The Seventh Year", was finally published in
August 2006, in German. The book mentions in passing our adventure on
Lhakpa Ri but the main theme is a review of our last seven years in
Tibet. It deals too with the changes in Tibet and with childhood
stories of some the Tibetans, especially our blind students, with whom
we have lived and come to love and admire over these seven years. You
find more info on the book HERE
In 2006 BWB received several awards:
- In September 2006 Braille Without Borders received the
"Chomolongma Friendship Award" from the government of the
Tibet Autonomous Region.
- In October 2006 Braille Without Borders received the "National
Friendship Award" from the Chinese government in Beijing.
- In October 2006 Braille Without Borders received the "Mother
- In November 2006 Sabriye Tenberken received the "Kinderpreis"
("Childrens-award" for her work with children from the
Junior-Publishing house in Nüremberg
MERRY CHRISTMAS and a HAPPY NEW YEAR!!
More info on Braille Without Borders can be found on our
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