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Erik Weihenmayer



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 Annual report 2008

Dear Friends,

It doesn’t happen every day that you wake up and know that from this day onward a new phase in life starts.

A first impression from the IISE in Kerala:

It was 6:30 a.m., a cool breeze blew across the tropical lake.  Paul and I walked on the recently paved path between still empty buildings when suddenly the silence was disrupted by loud laughter coming from the auditorium.  The first three participants had arrived and were enjoying bananas and coffee.  Eric and Julius from Ghana and Hussni from Saudi Arabia, all three of them dressed in nice suits and polished shoes.  They cheerfully shouted, "We made history!  We are the first participants ever to enter this building!"

Over the next two days we drove back and forth to the airport to collect all the 2009 IISE participants.  Finally after the arrival of Kyila and Kienzen, our two Tibetan participants, the team was nearly complete.  We only lost track of the four Liberian participants.  They weren’t on their flight from Lagos to Dubai.  In Lagos nobody seemed to have noticed the four of them, which is rather strange since four blind people traveling together isn’t a very common sight.

We were really worried because they didn’t have money to buy food or even to give us a call.  With the help of some friendly airline employees they were finally "tracked down."  Their flight from Monrovia had been delayed so they missed their connecting flight to Dubai.  After a delay of more than 36 hours delay, they finally arrived in Trivandrum. The other participants received the four world travelers with a warm welcome and songs.

Several Participants
From left to right: Martin and Holi. (Madagascar), Pynhoi (India),
Mohamed (Sierra Leone), Kyila (Tibet/China), Sahr (Liberia) and Eric (Ghana)

Thanks to the hard work of all the IISE team members, lead catalysts: Nora and Isabel.  Catalysts, Rajesh, Rose, Amjad, Arky, Murali, Navigator Sankar, the administration team led by Ajith and Sree and all other colleagues and supporters, the IISE "Journey in Five Acts" could start on January 12th, 2009.

Looking back on the year 2008 is not all that easy.  So many things have happened, and because we haven’t been in Tibet since September we have asked Nyima, Yudun, and Mike to write up the most important events in Lhasa and Shigatse.

Nyima und Yudon:
After the unrest in March last year (also see the newsletter of August, 2008) the situation has calmed down again and some tourists (but not as many as beforea) have returned to Lhasa.  Because of the lack of tourists in 2008, the medical massage clinic has not done as well as it did in 2007, however Tashi, Tendsin and their colleagues are looking positively towards 2009.

In 2008 seven new students joined the project and in the beginning they were very nervous and shy about talking to people.  Some of them thought they would not be able to learn but soon they discovered that they were reading and writing in Tibetan Braille.  Seven students graduated and integrated themselves into the regular elementary school next to the farm in Shigatse. The teachers there are happy to work with them because they all are very motivated and none of the sighted students wants to "stay behind."

Schueler fuehlen ein Bild
Students in Lhasa "look at" a tactile painting.

Four students have started the medical massage training, and two students will graduate in the beginning of 2009. They all moved out of the project and now live in an apartment close to the school.

Ngudup takes music class from a teacher at the Tibetan university.  His teacher said that he is impressed by Ngudup, because he studies very hard. From all the students the teacher has he thinks Ngudup is the best one.  Ngudup is a very nice guy and he does what his teacher says.  The teacher mentioned that the other students are sighted but that in comparison to Ngudup they don’t seem know why education is important.

In 2008 we had two very nice local volunteers, Lobsang Jimpa and Tseyang.  Lobsang Jimpa is still with us.  Tseyang helped with our Braille books. Tseyang said that she was very happy with our students and she loves our school.  Lobsang said our students are blind but their minds and hearts are not blind and he doesn’t see a difference between blind people and sighted people. He likes working with us and as he noticed that some people are shy about taking blind people to the city, he thinks that is not right.

Unfortunately, this year not so many people came to this event as did last year.  We went near the Potala Palace in order to show what we are capable of doing, and we know that people are interested in seeing how we read and write in Braille. That day we had a very good party in our school and we also invited blind students from the governmental special school.

Handicapped International and the Tibet Disabled Persons Federation organized a big celebration. 12 of our students competed in essay writing, singing, reading and writing competitions.  For the essay competition all our students got some nice prizes, including the gold, silver, and bronze medals, a certificate, and a set of gloves and hat.

In 2008 we have hired 2 motivated and nice teachers.
We now have eleven staff: six teachers and five staff. Two of our teachers went to Shanghai for three weeks to exchange experiences with teachers at the International School there.  It was a successful exchange and Yudon and Choedon learned some new teaching methods, which they now also use in the Lhasa project.

The German magazine,Bild der Frau,invited Sabriye to Berlin . To surprise her, they invited Nyima and Adron too. Nyima and Adron were shown the city. Nyima loved the zoo. Adron loved the food. And both found the people of Berlin very friendly.

Bild der Frau Preisverleihung in Berlin
'Goldene Bild der Frau'  Award ceremony in Germany. From left to right:
Ursula von der Leyen, Kai Pflaume, Nyima, Sabriye und Adrun.

It was an amazing thing to see Nyima and Adrun on stage during the handover of the "Goldene Bild der Frau Award“ in Berlin. Paul and the people of the "Bild der Frau“ arranged their “appearance” without my knowing.  For the audience and me it was really a huge surprise!

Dear friends, I would like to say thank you once again to all those who have voted for the Bild Der Frau extra prize.  Because of all these votes, BWB has received this prize and it has helped us to overcome the rather difficult situation in 2008.

In 2008 several other awards were received.  In October, in Boston, Massachusetts, Sabriye received the "Hands on Award' from the National Braille Press, and in December Ms. Geraldine Chaplin handed Sabriye the 'Life Award'. 

In December we received the following news from China:

“China on Saturday revealed the 15 most influential foreigners for their contributions to the country's development over the past three decades. The list includes specialists in public health, science, construction, management, education, media and farming, according International Talent Monthly.  Most of the finalists were also winners of the Friendship Award, the top honor awarded by the Chinese government to foreign experts who make outstanding contributions to China's economic construction and social development.
Sabriye Tenberken was selected amongst the above mentioned 15 most influential foreigners.

This recognition made us very happy since it means not only that the BWB's work is well recognized by the Chinese authorities but it especially shows that blind people can contribute to society.

We see this award as a positive sign fort the start of the new project here in Kerala.  The IISE trains 23 highly motivated participants from 14 countries in an environmental friendly campus full of creativity, ideas, stories, and action.  We have possibly never slept less in our lives but we have also hardly ever been so energized as at this moment.

Audit at night
IISE - Auditorium at night

Overview activities farm 2008:

A major national grocery chain with head offices in Beijing and outlets in Tibet have agreed to market our dairy products and provide special marketing displays in their outlets in Tibet and in mainland China.  This step required inspections by the local health department, the National Department for Food Hygiene, a department for the protection of the environment and by the Department of Revenue.  Four inspectors from the national government Department for Food Safety paid a surprise visit and inspection.  They were impressed and granted us an official license—in the form of a large official shield—to produce our cheese and to display the government safety logo on our products.

The challenge: to meet demand and at the same time to maintain the standard for which we have gained official approval.

The initial set of composting toilets for the students was renovated this year using professional ‘urine-diverting’ pans manufactured in Guangdong and used at the Olympics.  (Note: the previous pans were our own adaptation of standard bowls which did not withstand the vigorous cleaning techniques of our blind students, creating a disconnection between the bowl and the plumbing.)

A second set of waterless, Ecosan toilets was built for staff and students using the professionally produced pans. In addition, "mini green houses" were created over the south facing windows of the compost "cooking chambers."  This will speed the composting rate, especially during the cold Tibetan winters.

It was decided to create grey water collection at all the Project’s water points: around wells, showers, clothes- washing areas, kitchen sinks, etc.  These are based on a septic tank design with three chambers.  The third chamber is simply a grey water holding chamber with a manual/electric pump option for extracting the grey water for use in the green houses, flower gardens, field irrigation and, forgive us, for an outdoor ice-hockey rink.

Four of our six green houses have been renovated using the Ladakh method.  The Ladakh method was devised to meet conditions similar to those on the high Tibetan plateau—very cold winters and severe winds from January to April. The severe winters require external "winter blankets" to retain heat overnight. But the severe winds in Ladakh and Tibet invariably blow the blankets away, requiring constant management of guy-wires and ropes to keep them in place, and the consequent "traffic" of people on the greenhouse roofs causes damage.  The Ladakh method of green housing does away with the need for external, additional winter ‘blankets’ by removing internal struts, columns, supports etc, allowing for internal night "curtains." These curtains are much lighter than blankets. They may run along wires inside the greenhouse or can be hung on hooks from the roofing ribs. They are easily stored aside while working during the day and closed at the end of the (winter) day, much like standard curtains.

farm summer 2009
Farm in Shigatse end of September 2008

An abandoned traditional Tibetan/Chinese greenhouse near the Project kitchen was also renovated using the Ladakh method.  The traditional sun-baked mud/straw Tibetan bricks were retained however. And by happy accident it was discovered that it was possible to use one-sixth the number of "ribs" used in the larger greenhouses. This greenhouse is at present functioning and producing vegetables for our kitchen.

The compost unit produced 2 tons of compost this year using a modified Indore (aerobic) method.

While production methods remained the same, ie: traditional Tibetan village hand looms, all natural dyes, etc., this year the Project has begun procuring the raw wool directly from the surrounding Tibetan villages. This has eliminated the "middle man" and also given us greater control over the quality of the yarn, as we now do the carding and spinning of the yarn ourselves. Three traditional Tibetan hand spinning wheels have been made for this purpose.  With the students home for the month of New Year, the staff fill the long evening hours, sitting around the stove in the dining room, preparing the yarn for the return of the students and drinking sweet tea.  Not so traditional, is the DVD playing Tibetan songs in the background, as they spin.
Five graduate students live and work in their own residence-cum-weaving center in the nearby town of Shigatse. This being their initial year, and since tourism was curtailed, BWB has advanced a micro-loan to them, which they will repay over the next 3 years.

The bakery building has been completed. It requires equipping however. Landscaping had begun just before winter set in and our seasonal day-workers returned to their villages for the New Year celebrations.

Two summer sun-shelters were added, one for cows and one for houses.  An old well over our private aquifer was re-activated with pump, new plumbing and a tank—to provide an extra and independent water supply for our animals. A young bull was purchased and is now the proud sire of two "daughters" and a "son." 

Six more mu  (1 mu = 666.66 m2, so 4000 m2 or app 1 acre) have been converted to agricultural use, bringing the total of cultivated land to 96 mu. Crops harvested: spring wheat, spring barley, rye, winter wheat, oats, rapeseed (canola), spring barley, two varieties of potato. With the help of the compost from our composting toilets and those who contributed to them, the potato harvest came to 32.8 tons.

Music: the first steps toward a Department of Music have been made.  Rooms have been set aside and traditional Tibetan "drobnye"’ and keyboards have been provided. In the spring of 2009 we await Ngudup, a blind Tibetan music teacher and he will bring additional instruments from Lhasa.

English: a full time English teacher has been employed for the students and staff who are interested.

Sabriye and Paul:
We soon hope to have the new website up and running. On this site you will find articles, updates and stories from the IISE participants.

Before we end this newsletter, we would like to ask you for some help. We are looking for highly motivated and talented participants for the 2010 IISE course. To be able to reach blind and partially sighted potential candidates around the world we would like to ask you to send a small IISE advertisement to the friends and people in your networks.
Please find below the advertisement in English. On the following link you can find the same advertisement in several languages: Advertisement IISE
It would be great if you can spread it as much as you can so it reaches as many people as possible. Thank you very much for your help!

Attention! Attention!

Do you experience social discrimination?
Is it your dream to change and improve the situation?
If yes, the International Institute for Social Entrepreneurs (IISE) is the right place to be.
The IISE seeks to empower people, especially blind and partially sighted, to become social entrepreneurs in your communities.

Candidates from all over the world who are at least eighteen and older and who can read and write English are invited to apply for this one-year program before the 30th of June 2009.

Computer literacy training, public speaking, fund raising, and management are some of the courses offered here.
For more information please visit our website at

You can also write to or per regular post to:

Braille Without Borders
International Institute for Social Entrepreneurs
c/o P. Kronenberg

Vivekanenda Nagar, Vellayani, Ookode, Nemom PO, TRV 695020

or fax your questions to: Fax 0031848307904

In the name of all the students in Tibet, the participants in Kerala, and all our colleagues we would like to say THANK YOU very much for your support, wishes, ideas and suggestions.  With many good wishes and lots of friendly greetings from a centre full of joy, discussions, songs, music and visions,

Sabriye and Paul.
IISE TEam 2009

IISE - TEAM 2009

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