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  Newsletter AUG 2008

Dear friends and supporters,
Once again, the last half year has rapidly passed us by as event followed upon event-- some upsetting but most, positive and promising. We herewith send you an update on the events of the first 6 months in 2008.
Touring Germany with a bodyguard
The Blindsight movie promotion
“I am Markus, body guard, driver, tour guide and ‘jack-of-all-trades’. This introduction from Markus was how we began our 2-week tour through 23 cities in Germany and Switzerland. It was an intensive promotion tour for the documentary Blindsight and thanks to Markus’ humor and laid back style we were spared any cardiac events that ‘performing’ in 23 cities in 14 days could induce. It felt a bit strange to travel with a body guard. But Markus would ‘watch our backs’ during interviews and autograph sessions, though we hardly considered that necessary. I guess Markus had worked with real celebrities before, unlike our simple selves and always expected the unexpected. Once, in this mode, he almost man-handled a well known local politician who approached out of nowhere. And wrestled down an old school friend of mine whose approach he judged to be too brisk. Unfortunately, despite well-attended premieres and mostly positive reviews in radio, television and press, our little promotion tour didn’t produce the kind of help and support we were hoping for. In fact, we ourselves are still hoping for our own DVD of the Blindsight documentary.
When Tashi meets Mickey Mouse and Jaws jumps from the water
Travelling the US with five blind Tibetans
“„Pfuidje! What's that? A huge rat??” This was the first reaction of our blind and visually impaired Tibetan youngsters to a 1,5 meter tall rodent-like object that boogied up to them. It took some time to explain who Mickey Mouse was and that this apparition was just a student earning some pocket money by schlepping a costume, and not "Ratzilla".
Tashi, Kyila, Dachung, Bungzo and Gyendsen had been invited by the Blindsight producer Sybil Robson to a one-month US adventure tour. Tendsin, the sixth member of the Blindsight team, did not manage to get his passport in time and had to be content with listening to the stories of the others when they got back to Tibet from the USA.
What especially impressed them? Ice-skating in Central Park, hanggliding, fastfood and roller coasters. At a press conference,someone asked them what they liked best. Right away, Bungzo answered for all of them: “Spacemountain!“ This is a breakneck rollercoaster ride that they took six times before their chaperone Paula Davie, or rather her knees, protested. And at Universal Studios they were surprised by her frightened screams. They were even more puzzled when she explained that "Jaws" (the famous movei shark) ,had suddenly emerged from the watery set. Our blind Tibetan youngsters only know Jaws as the name for a speech synthesizer program for the visually impaired.
In a report, Kyila summarized the trip: “ We thought that every blind person in America was like Erik, (the first blind person to summit Mt.Everest) but now we have the feeling that we in the blind project here in Tibet, deal with our blindness as confidently as a lot of American blind persons and our mobility and computer skills are similar as those of many American blind.”
There was a session with blind American teenagers about leisure time activities. Most of them mentioned they liked listening to the radio. One of them liked playing computer games for the blind. “Do you sometimes go out as well?“ I asked the American blind. Yes, they replied, if they had a free driving service for the disabled they would sometimes go to events especially organized for the blind. Our blind Tibetan kids described how they liked to sing, dance, play musical instruments, go out with sighted friends, kayak, raft, work out and ride horses on our farm in the countryside.. Horse riding is the favourite sport for many of our blind children. Some of them will jump on a horse without a saddle and race through the farm fields and up and down the lanes. On one occasion we had to extract a hat from a low lying branch. No, don't worry, it did not contain a head :-). The American leisure time expert, himself blind, protested: “Horse riding! Sure, but you have to make sure that the horse is well-behaved, docile and that sighted people go along to lead the horse.” (As though it was the horse that was blind.)

Iceskating New York 01 Iceskating NYC 02
Left: Ice-skating in Central Park, New York (PhotosRick Guidotti)
Right: Dachung on the ice rink in Central Park ( (PhotosRick Guidotti))

The press marathon
Blindsight in the US
Fortunately, we could use the US movie promotion tour and the press attention surrounding Blindsight, for fund raising. The producer Sibyl Robson and Ed Weihenmayer, Erik's father, were very helpful in helping us to find interested sponsors. After one of our Blindsight shows, a publisher for childrens books jumped on stage to declare that he would support the Centre for the Blind in Tibet with a substantial donation. A US-based company organized a fundraiser among their employees. The privately collected donations were matched by the management.
Sibyl organized auctions at which prayer wheels and virtual yaks were auctioned and she made sure that Braille Without Borders was mentioned in the press over and over again.
We had thought that nothing could surpass the media attention we got in Germany. But the US proved us wrong. For almost one month, Paul, I and the complete BLINDSIGHT promotion team, travelled from one city to another, from one interview to the next. It was interesting to note the qualitative difference among the journalists. One of the moderators asked us – luckily before the show – whether 'Thaibet' also belongs to Thailand. Others presented Blindsight as a movie about an Everest climb with six blind children rather than teenagers attempting to summit the neighbouring mountain, Lhakpa Ri, next to Everest. It was an ongoing challenge to clarify things during live shows without the moderators losing face.
· On the other hand there were media people who took a lot of effort to inform and prepare themselves for the interviews. A common question was the possible impact of the documentary filmteam on the expedition. Would there be additional pressure on the the professional mountaineers who accompanied the blind youngsters, to get to the top by all means? We explained that the presence of the filmteam did worry Paul and I initially. But the producers of the film and our professional climbing mates assured us that our six blind teenagers, their life stories and their own ‘personal Everests’ was the focus of the film. And as it turned out the film became an exploration of the blind person’s ‘point of view’ and the ‘blind spot’ that often blocks the vision of the sighted.
Chaotic days in Tibet
Unrest in Lhasa

· On the morning of March 14th, the day of the unrest, I was woken up at 5:30 am by a phone call from CNN, one of the largest TV channels in the US. A psyched female voice asked me whether I had heard of the turbulence in Tibet. She wanted a commentary on the current situation and wanted to send a broadcasting car to wherever I was. I explained to her that I did not want to make any statement on the current situation in Tibet, but the woman just kept talking at me. . It took a while for her to respect my wish but in the end she let me go.

· In the German project office as well, that whole day, we received requests for interviews from TV channels and radio stations worldwide. To escape the media and worried about our students and teachers, we cancelled the rest of the Blindsight tour and with Sybil's generous help, travelled back to Tibet.
· To inform ourselves about the situation there, we talked to some ex-pat witnesses on our way to Lhasa. A children's doctor who had worked for an organization in Lhasa during the unrest, told us that he was in a hotel not far from the city centre when everything started. He described that angry people, young and old, moved through the streets causing harm to persons and property. Then the attack on the mosque and the attempted attack on his hotel. Guests barricaded themselves in their rooms, the bath tubs filled with water just in case and armed themselves with iron rods for defence.
· The old Tibetan section of town was under thick clouds of smoke. Shops had been set on fire regardless whether there was still someone inside or not. Our employees also remember: Everything started on 14th March around lunch time. They would have probably not even noticed anything about the street riots if there hadn't been sudden calls by friends, relatives and officials warning them to stay inside the school and away from the streets. But no one knew details. They could hear screams and sirens, but only from the distance. Fortunately, all the younger students were at school and the older ones were at the massage clinic. Imagine what it would have been like for a blind person in the street at that time.
· Then a call from the massage clinic. The students and some of the masseurs were not able to get out. “It was really scary.“ said Yudon, “ We wanted to get to the school, but it was too dangerous to leave the place!“ Nyichung, the clinic's cook, was pregnant and supposed to have her baby soon.. But initially, there was no possibility to get her into a hospital. They heard screams directly from downstairs on the Beijing Dong-Lu. When they wanted to open the window, people yelled at them not to look outside. And all the smoke! A few houses further some Chinese stores went up in flames. We were afraid that the encroaching flames may cause a fire at the massage clinic as well.“
· Now, four months later, things are more or less back to normal. Only the crowds of tourists are absent. Many hotels and restaurants have had to close down. We hope that a good solution can be found for all.
· The scent of compost and the organic bakery
· Developments at the training farm

The children at the training farm have discovered their new favourite spot: Mike's compost barn. And indeed it is quite cosy between the boxes of fragrant compost. The children are fascinated with the soft heaps of humus and appreciate working there, especially during the cold Tibetan winter. In fact, the ‘cooking’ compost gets so hot that staff have been known to bury their lunch boxes in the compost piles to keep their noon meals hot.
· Mike often sits with the trainees and staff around a small table in the compost barn drinking tea and discussing composting strategies with them. Ever since our Tibetan farmers/trainers began using organic compost, our six green houses have produced more vegetables than ever. Waste is getting respect! Now anything that can be composted is graded, chopped, piled and turned until it becomes fragrant black humus. And that, in less than a month per batch.

· A dream for many years, has been the establishment of an organic bakery where blind students could learn how to bake healthy tasty bread. The bakery is nearing completion. Part of the organic bakery is given over to a café where blind learn restaurant management. Paul designed the "dream building" for this-- a solar-heated crescent shaped design overlooking the farm’s willow ringed duck pond.
Do you need vision to be a visionary?
The International Institute for Social Entrepreneurs (IISE) nears its launch
· After two years of construction work we are nearly done. The buildings of the IISE campus are currently getting their finishing touches as we prepare to start furnishing the rooms in preparation for the participants from all over the world.
Office block staircase Entrance Classroom block
Office stairways
Entrance classroom block
· Selection procedure
· To be selected for the IISE, candidates have to show a high level of motivation and commitment and have a clear vision of how they would contribute to their society. Furthermore, they need to have adequate mobility and English language skills.
· The question arose how to evaluate a candidate’s ability not only to ‘talk the talk’ but to walk it too, ie,,the ability and motivation to create centers for blind empowerment. We needed someone who had expierence in leading telephone interviews. We thought of the psychologist Thomas Hill, a long-time friend. He and his wife Constanze agreed to interview our applicants. Constanze and Thomas Hill are both blind and have plenty of experience in HR interviews. Constanze is a successful host of an Austrian radio talk show, where many people seek guidance.
· The most promising applications were forwarded to the Austrian selection committee to choose the first generation of IISE participants in two intensive rounds of interviews.
· We have selected 30 committed and highly-motivated participants from 19 countries. Enabled and prepared by IISE, they would like to set up a social project in their own country or country of choice.

Mohamed Salia
Robert Sabwami
Kyila from Tibet
Mohamed Salia from Sierra Leone
Robert Sabwami from Kenya
Kyila from Tibet, PR China

· The IISE Curriculum
· A journey in five acts
· The course at IISE can be compared neither to a university degree nor to something like a management seminar. It is much more a journey along which one strengthens one's own abilities to create ideas and develop methods to make these ideas come true.
· The 11-month program is divided into five acts:
· Act One: Where am I, who are you?
- Introduction to IISE
- Exchange about objectives
- Getting to know the environment
· Act Two: Finding my Voice
- Communication
- Public relations
- Dealing with the media
- Holding speeches, drama school, stage training
· Act Three: Mind Travel
- Recognizing and discussing different cultural backgrounds and traditions
- Dealing with social, political and environmental movements
- Training in management
· Act Four: Going out and coming back
- Internships in various projects
- Evaluation
· Act Five: The sky is the limit
- Preparation for the realization of the individual’s own ideas and expectations
- Final proposal and public presentation of their projetcs.

· Outlook
· In November this year, the German magazine “Bild der Frau“ will award five German women.
The award is titled "Die goldene Bild der Frau".
Readers may vote for one woman who will receive 30,000 Euros in addition to the 10,000 Euros reward for the respective projects.
We would be very glad if you voted for the Braille Without Borders project so it would benefit from the extra monetary award:
· Readers as well as non-readers of the magazine may also vote through the following webpage:
(select Sabriye Tenberken and then click on the grey button: "Abschicken")


· Acknowledgment
·Our Administrative Director, Tigi Philip, unfortunately had to leave the IISE after two years of fruitful service. In the name of all future participants, we would like to thank her for her strong commitment and wish her all the best for her future endeavours.
·Dear friends,

· In the name of the blind children in Tibet and the future participants of the IISE, we would like to take the opportunity to thank you for your support, friendship and suggestions.
With very best wishes,
Sabriye Tenberken, Paul Kronenberg,
Founders / Directors
Braille Without Borders