Braille without borders the right to be blind without being disable



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Medical massage clinic
Counterpart Tibet

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My paths leads to Tibet

Sabriye & Paul interview
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Erik Weihenmayer



Vision Textiles

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 Annual report 2006

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 for donations)

From a winterly cold but sunny Tibet we wish you merry Christmas and a happy New Year!
Yours truly,
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 have to cope at present with difficult neighbours. Together with a Tibetan lawyer, 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" project."
In 2006 the project entered an important phase: a "DIY", do-it-yourself phase, in which our Tibetan colleagues are doing more and more themselves.
Important tasks which Paul and I handled till now, such as bookkeeping, scheduling and planning of curricula and meeting officials have been for 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 structures.
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 another teacher.
"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 open to advice from their elders while keeping their youthful enthusiasm.


Massage clinic banner

The massage clinic is the result of three year’s training in massage and physiotherapy. The clinic was founded over two years ago by the first massage graduates, Kyila and Digi. They were joined later by three more graduates, Tenzing, Tashi and Drolma. They have since expanded, 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 management.
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 society: Chinese, Tibetan and English. And so whom did they choose? They chose the youngest among them, seventeen year old Lobsang, from Lhatse. And Tenzing was chosen as Accountant, not because he’s the most reliable when it comes to money managent.
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 can. This has been a happy development since the arrangement with the Medrogongkar school officials broke down. Having ‘academic’ blind students resident on the farm has created or renewed an interest in our blind ‘vocational’ students in learning to read and write. They have begun attending, freely, the tuition classes that the Farm offers to the academic residents.

Farm Pelshong

           Horsebackriding               Carpet weaving       growing vegetables           Knitting

New animals
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 have been adopted by our children here on the farm. The ‘adoption’ process includes a lot of cuddling and personal bonding not to mention a philosophy of ‘what is mine is yours’, ‘mi casa, su casa’. And so the puppies enjoy a regular course of cardio work out with the kids on our gym’s treadmill: the ‘progam’ evolved by the kids, begins with the puppies running on their front legs,then their back legs and then on all four, lovingly supported of course.

Ecosan Toilets
The system was pioneered by a German/Dutch association called Ecosan, which stands for ‘ecofriendly sanitation.’ It has been tested successfully 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 than 4%.
(Further information about the Ecosan system:

three pictures mouseclass
          Dog fitness                       Kyila teaches the Mouse class               Dawa feeds our cows

Composting Factory
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 friendly 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.
The Dairy
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 as a main requirement  in quality organic milk production. A computerized, individual feeding program was taught to the students. This was possible since we grow our own fodder on our own fields. As a result, the growing pattern of grains and fodder was reorganized with the dairy herd in mind.
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 of European and Tibetan cheeses. Our dream of course is that our students will eventually be able to contribute to the financing of the farm and/or set up little home-units in their home villages.
Totnes School, England.

 This year two of our blind students took 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 RNIB.
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 successfully.
Kyila and Nyima who are both very independent were soon able to make small trips on their own, once   travelling to London by themselves.
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 Lhasa.
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 students. However they also seemed amused by the  "interesting" but "unnecessary" gadgets such as machines that tell the blind if a glass is full or not and those which tell you whether its raining outside or whether the sun is shining or not.
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.”

Kaesetraining in Holland

                            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 farm of Marinus and Joke Post to learn more about professional cheese production.
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 person and beneficiary of their newly acquired expertese: cheese with onions, garlic and local herbs, cheese with sun dried tomatoes, cheese with nuts and on and on. Their experimental enthusiasm has no limits so they require some 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 of Kerala.
It is built in ecological style, with rainwater harvesting, a bio gas construction,  solar energy, with the possibility for a windmill in the future.   

Konstruktion in Kerala  

The center will be for blind and visually impaired persons, from all over the world, who hope to initiate their own projects for the blind of their own countries and regions.  The training will 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 and Renjith.
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 as possible.

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 this time.
- 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 continuing contact.
 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 girls, attempted the summit with Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind man to summit Everest. The film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film 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:

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
   Theresa Award".
- 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 website:

Potala Palace in Tibet

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