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welcome to the website
Per WHO 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 education.
Braille Without Borders wants to empower
blind people from these countries so they themselves can set up
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 future.
To realize these plans we need your
Thank you very much!
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
the blind, has been established.
In the summer of 1997 Sabriye Tenberken, blind herself,
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.
|Initially 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
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
Tenzin is mow 18 years old. He comes from a little village within the
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.
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 schoo 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 Braillescripts 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 schoolsystem. 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
They take care of the children at all times, except when the children
- A cook prepares all the meals for the children and
- Teachers have been trained (initially by Sabriye
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 computerskills 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
2. Vocational / skills training
The following are possible professions or skills that can be performed
people in the T.A.R.:
- 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. Two blind in Chengdu educated medical massage trainers
were found who started up this program in the autumn of
2000. In May 2001 , April 2002 and April 2003a blind
physiotherapist from Switzerland, Monique Assal, came to Lhasa to train
the trainees and one massage btrainer 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: Milk, yoghurt, cheese production
- Agriculture: Cultivating vegetable and grain. (Summer
- Handicrafts: Knitting, weaving, pottery, carpentry ,
basket making. (Summer 2004)
- Compost production: Students are being trained how to
- In the centre in Lhasa the students are trained in
the use of a computer.
3. A workshop for the production of educational
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
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
6 months later these nomads brought a blind little boy from their
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 hasred hair and
some are blind. They should stand up in society and say, “I am blind,
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
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 base. In the beginning BWB
help from some Save the Children staff members who were visiting the
nearly every week anyway. However after a few months BWB noticed that
students were doing really well and that they integrated themselves
their class and school. BWB gave this some thought and realized that
process cannot be called RE-INTEGRATION since the children have never
integrated before. The process also cannot call it just INTEGRATION
what does that mean? If you put blind students in a regular elementary
does that mean they are integrated. What happens to them during the
Do they have friends? How do the teachers treat them? What about the
environment of the school? The trained blind students showed their
what they are capable of, where they need help and where they are able
help the sighted children. BWB saw that they made a lot of friends but
met some competitors in class which shows that the integration is real
that the blind do not get a special treatment. BWB therefore came to
term “SELF-Integration” to describe the process. The children
a base of knowledge and most important enough self-confidence to be
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 base to supply the studentswith Braille
schoolbooks, paper and other
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