Relief and Development
This project started in 2010 to seek ways of improving access to education for children with vision impairment in Jimma and Bonga. Despite Ethiopia having policies for inclusive education for those with disabilities, there are various cultural and resource reasons that this has been difficult to achieve, especially in village areas. Many village and town school facilities are very basic with 60-100 students in each class, with classrooms often being dirt floors and lacking books and lighting. This brings difficulties for all children, let alone for those with disabilities. Additionally, in many rural areas, disabilities are seen as a curse so blind children sit in their huts, invisible and isolated, with little to look forward to in their day or in their future. It doesn’t need to be this way! With an education, these children can participate in life like their peers, enjoy daily interaction with others, and be employed as adults! Dr Girum, an ophthalmologist in Jimma Hospital/University who I met when taking some blind children to him for assessment, shared my hope for provision of education for sight impaired children. He was pivotal in the early years in assisting the program to get started, although is no longer involved.
Over the years this program has expanded as it became evident that providing education without other social and basic living needs was insufficient.
- Training of teachers from remote and town schools in teaching blind children, including Braille training. One of these trainings was done in conjunction with a teachers college as we work towards supporting the existing services to better provide for blind students.
- Funding a quarterly ‘bonus payment’ for those teachers who have attended training for each blind student they teach, to encourage the training to be utilised and access to education for blind students in village areas
- Provision of Braille text books, recording devices (so students can tape lessons), Braille slate and stylus and blind walking canes
- Transport and provision of clothing and personal needs for some students accepted into two blind boarding schools (both being several days journey away)
- Support with materials and transport for blind students accepted into college and university
- Small business set-ups for blind adults to provide an alternative to begging. These small businesses have included clothes washing, rope making and chicken breeding projects
- Rent, housing and living support for blind parents with children
- Financially supporting and/or advocating for eye clinics to Bonga
- Providing glasses/spectacles and magnifying glasses to children with low vision
- Providing Braille classes to blind adults to increase social interaction and inclusion, hope and purpose
We have seen a significant shift in the visibility of blind people in some areas, and in the recognition of them as meaningful, included members of their communities. It has been deeply touching to hear the difference this has made to their lives.