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welcome to the website of Braille Without Borders.
statistics, 161 million persons live with a disabling visual
impairment, of whom 37 million are blind and 124 million are persons
with low vision. Every 5 seconds someone becomes blind, every minute
somewhere a child goes blind. About 90% of them live in developing
countries of Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Pacific Regions. 9 out
of 10 blind children in developing countries have no access to
Borders empowers blind people from these countries so they themselves
can set up projects and schools for other blind people. In this way the
concept can be spread across the globe so more blind and visually
impaired people have access to education and a better
To realize these
plans we need your support.
Thank you very
Before the opening of the Project, blind children in the Tibet
Autonomous Region did not have access to education. They led a life on
the margin of society with few chances of integration. According to
official statistics 30.000 of the 2.5 million inhabitants of the T.A.R.
are blind or highly visually impaired. Compared to most areas in the
world this is well above the average ratio. The causes of visual
impairment or blindness are both climatic and hygienic: dust, wind,
high ultra-violet light radiation, soot in houses caused by heating
with coal and/or yak dung, and lack of vitamin A at an early age.
Inadequate medical care also plays a role. Cataracts are widespread.
Indeed governmental and private organizations have set up eye-camps
where medical surgery is being performed and local doctors are taught
to do the procedure. However, there is a large group of blind people
that can't be helped this way. For this group of people the
rehabilitation and training centre for the blind, has been established.
In the summer of 1997 Sabriye Tenberken, blind
herself, travelled within the T.A.R to investigate the possibility of
providing training for Tibetan blind and visually impaired people.
Sabriye realised there were no programs educating and rehabilitating
blind people within the T.A.R. She then took the initiative to found
the present project.
On the same trip she met with Paul Kronenberg, a Dutch engineer. She
told him about her plans to set up her project. He told her to call him
when she was going back to Tibet. 9 Months later Sabriye called Paul in
Holland to say goodbye. Paul decided to join her and quit his job the
next day. Five days later they both sat in a plane to start the present
Part of the Tibetan
Braille script developed by Sabriye Tenberken in 1992 at the
University, bonn, 1992.
for her own use in her study of Tibetology at Bonn university, Sabriye
developed a Tibetan script for the blind. This script combines the
principles of the Braille system with the special features of the
Tibetan syllable-based script. This script for the blind was submitted
for close examination to an eminent Tibetan scholar, who found it to be
readily understandable, simple, and easy to learn. As Tibetans until
now had had no script for the blind, he suggested to Sabriye that she
let blind Tibetans take use of it.
First step: preparatory
school for blind children
In May 1998 Sabriye Tenberken (German) and Paul
Kronenberg (Dutch) left Europe to establish the Rehabilitation and
Training Centre for the Blind, Tibet, starting with the preparatory
school for elementary school children. After arranging all the
necessary requirements, 6 children were collected from different
villages to board at the school. The children came from different parts
of the Tibet Autonomous Region and had to get used to each other's
dialects. A local teacher was found and within a couple of days she was
instructed in the Tibetan Braille script. The children learned the
Tibetan Braille alphabet on wooden boards with Velcro dots. They worked
with amazing enthusiasm and within just 6 weeks they knew all the 30
Tibetan characters and were able to count in three different languages
(Tibetan, Chinese and English).
Background information of some of
our former students:
Tenzin is now 18 years old. He comes from a little village within the
Lhasa district. His parents are divorced, and he lived with his mother
and his little brother. Tenzin belongs to the few blind children who
were reasonably well integrated in his village. He had friends and had
some tasks. While his friends were attending school he took care of the
village yaks and goats. Through Medicines Sans Frontiers (MSF) Tenzin
heard about the Project for the Blind, Tibet when he was 8 years old.
He wasn't used to washing every day and the MSF-hygiene-trainers told
him as a joke that only clean blind children could attend this school.
Ever since he obeyed the hygienic instructions to wash daily. He was
very eager to attend the school which he did in the summer of 1998.
Tenzin is very social and intelligent, who after only a few months
learned to read and write the Tibetan, Chinese and English
Braille scripts fluently. When we asked him about future profession
plans, his answer was that he wanted to study and become a masseur. He
started medical massage/physiotherapy training in 2001. Now in 2008 he,
together with some other blind friends who were trained at the BWB
centre as well, runs their own medical massage clinic.
Norbu is 17 years old. He comes from a very remote little farming
village close to Shigatse. He has a little vision on his left eye, but
not enough to attend a regular school. As a kid Norbu was very playful
and liked bal games or just to run around. He learned fast and made
friends with other children very easily. Norbu was trained in
making cheese and is now working as a trainer in the cheese factory
which is located in the Braille Without Borders vocational training
farm in Shigatse.
Yudon is 19 years old. She comes from a farming village close to Lhasa.
Being the youngest of six sisters and brothers she is very independent
in learning and playing. Yudon wanted to become a teacher. After
graduating the BWB centre she together with 3 other blind students was
the first to enter the regular school system. Now she is
teaching at the BWB preparatory school in Lhasa.
Staff of the training centre
- A housemother and a housefather and a
gatekeeper are employed.
They take care of the children at all times, except when the children
- A cook prepares all the meals for the children
and the staff.
- Teachers have been trained (initially by
Sabriye Tenberken) to teach the children Tibetan, Chinese and English
Braille systems, and in addition they also teach mathematics
Braille, mobility, orientation and daily living skills and
computer skills for the blind.
- In autumn 2000 two blind massage trainers
started the massage and physiotherapy-training with two students.
- One blind staffmember has been employed to
pruduce Braille school books.
- The children love to play ball games. The ball
is filled with a few rice grains or a small bell, so the children hear
where the ball is.
- Sculpturing tsampa is a very important
way of training the sensitivity of fingertips and
hands. Tsampa is the main traditional food in Tibet, it is made out of
roasted barley mixed with yak butter. It is also often used
as a material to mould sculptures.
- All of the children love to sing and dance. Now
they have also discovered the fun of playing musical instruments, such
as drums, flutes and bells. Apparently any instrument that produces a
lot of noise is welcome.
- The children regularly paint.
- The children like to write stories and like to
play theatre plays.
1. Preparatory school for the Blind
Since the population of blind people in the T.A.R. is very widespread,
it has been decided to have the blind children boarded in Lhasa and be
trained at the centre. From a financial, organisational and logistic
perspective it would simply be too complicated to set up an individual
training program in the very remote areas. With blind people boarding
at the school, training and education can be given much more
effectively. Being taken out of their familiar surroundings for a
certain period of time, they have to adjust to a new environment. This
helps them to accept and learn the techniques for the blind more easily.
Additionally the blind have the opportunity to communicate with other
blind people and exchange experiences and the problems they face in
their respective home situations. During their one or two years of
training, they gain enough self-confidence to cope with daily life
independently. The preparatory school for the Blind provides classes
and housing for children aged between 5 and 15. The training
for the students lasts for one to two years. First the students receive
an intensive training in orientation, mobility and daily living skills
(orientation in a room / school compound, walking with a cane, eating
with chopsticks and daily hygienic skills) followed by a training in
the Tibetan, Chinese, English and mathematical Braille script. In
addition to the training of the special techniques for the blind, the
students are also taught in basic colloquial Chinese and English
language skills. All students who attend a regular school after a one
or two year's training use schoolbooks which are used in the first four
elementary school classes. The goal of the preparatory school is that
after completion of the basic training the young students
integrate themselves into regular local elementary schools.
2. Vocational / skills training
The following are professions or skills that the blind and/or partially
sighted students can chose to be trained in:
- Tibetan and Chinese medical massage, pulse
diagnosis, acupressure: The professions of medical
masseur and physiotherapist are within the PR China reserved
for the blind and the deaf. A medical massage trainers were found who started up
this program in the autumn of 2000. In May 2001 ,
April 2002 and April 2003 blind physiotherapist from Switzerland,
Monique Assal, came to Lhasa to train the trainees and one massage trainer in the basics of physiotherapy.
- Musical training: especially talented blind
students are trained by a professional musician in singing, composing
and playing musical instruments.
- Animal husbandry: Cows, Horses, Pigs and
- Cheese production: Milk, yoghurt, cheese
production (Summer 2004)
In the cheesefactory several kinds of cheese are produced:
- Tibetan Mountain Cheese
- Tibetino in the Flavours naturel, garlic and onion.
- Bakery: Several bread products are being baked
ranging from white bread, raisin bread and "twists" and "Rolls". It is
planned to extend the training in pastry products as well.
- Agriculture: Cultivating vegetable and grain.
- Handicrafts: Knitting, weaving. (Summer 2004)
- Kitchen management
- Compost production: Students are being trained
how to make compost.
The sales of all products are also meant to generate income to
cover (part of the) running costs.
- In the centre in Lhasa the students are trained
in the use of a computer.
3. A workshop for the production of
educational school materials.
To provide reading and working materials for the students attending the
school and the vocational training program, a workshop for the
production of Tibetan Braille materials has been established. A
computer program to convert written Tibetan into Tibetan Braille has
been developed by a German blind mathematician, Eberhard Hahn. Tibetan
texts can be typed into a computer through Wylie transliteration, and
the program converts this transliteration into Tibetan Braille, which
is then printed in Braille. The first Tibetan Braille books were
produced in August 2001.
4. Self-Integration Project
Only shortly after the project started it showed that the impact of the
project on the students was a very positive one. Children who came from
backgrounds in which they were completely excluded from society
discovered that they were not the only ones with a similar fate. The
students were able to share their experiences and they were confronted
with blind people who were able to perform different tasks and
professions. All students were treated the same. Within days the
students grew stronger and also their self confidence increased
considerably. In case a student mentioned that he couldn’t do a certain
task, the teachers and staff of the project replied telling them that
the blind teachers or Sabriye was able to perform the task and they
also could not see. Within the project the students showed that their
increasing self confidence was a very important step to be able to face
the daily society. One day, a few of the students walked in the centre
of Lhasa and some Nomads very rudely shouted at them: ”Hey, you blind
fools!!”. Kienzen, the oldest of the small group turned around and told
the nomad that yes, he is blind but he is not a fool. “I am going to
school, I can read and write! Can you do that?”. “I can even read and
write in the dark! Can you do that?” The nomads were very astonished and
of course they were not able to write because they never visited a
school. They started a conversation and about 6 months later these
nomads brought a blind little boy from their region to the project.
This small example shows how important it is for the children to know
that they are valuable members in society. We want the students not to
be embarrassed to be blind, they should see it as a sort of quality.
One person has big feet, another has red hair and some are blind. They
should stand up in society and say, “I am blind, so what?”.
In the Tibetan society it is believed that blindness is a punishment
for something done wrong in a previous life. Because of a lot of media
attention in the TAR the project is being visited by lots of Tibetan
and Chinese people who are curious to see what is going on there. When
they are confronted with happy children they wonder how it can be that
these children are punished. It is the staff who tells them
that these children are not punished but they are challenged for their
next life.The visitors seem to be very open for this idea and suddenly
they see the blind with some more respect.
Initially BWB planned to train special
fieldworkers to counsel the students on a regular basis. In the
beginning BWB received help from some Save the Children staff members
who were visiting the school nearly every week anyway. However after a
few months BWB noticed that the students were doing really well and
that they integrated themselves into their class and school. BWB gave
this some thought and realized that the process cannot be called
RE-INTEGRATION since the children have never been integrated before.
The process also cannot call it just INTEGRATION since what does that
mean? If you put blind students in a regular elementary school does
that mean they are integrated? What happens to them during the breaks?
Do they have friends? How do the teachers treat them? What about the
surrounding environment of the school? The trained blind students
showed their surrounding what they are capable of, where they need help
and where they are able to help the sighted children. BWB saw that they
made a lot of friends but also met some competitors in class which
shows that the integration is real and that the blind do not need
special treatment. BWB therefore came to the term “SELF-Integration”
to describe the process. The children have a base of knowledge and most
important enough self-confidence to be able to integrate themselves into the school, daily society and also into a
profession. Two students, Kyla and Digi, who followed the medical
massage and physiotherapy training, graduated in November 2003 and in
December they started their own clinic. Dorjee and Jampa, the twins
start their own teahouse. BWB is in touch with the self-integrated
students on a regular basis to supply the students with Braille
schoolbooks, paper and other needed materials.
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