was blind but he had great vision. This was to fight not only
preventable blindness but disability in general all over the
world. Sir John Wilson who passed away in his sleep in the early
hours of November 24, 1999, is remembered all over the world
for his commitment to the poor and the neglected. Through Impact
Foundation in Bangladesh, of which he was a founder, Sir John
Wilson helped to set up a boat hospital called Jibon Tari that
could reach the remotest of areas in Bangladesh. Equipped with
the latest technology and an army of specialist doctors and
nurses, this hospital has been a blessing for hundreds of people
whose lives had been plagued by disability. Sir John believed
that over the years, such a boat could change the whole pattern
of disability amongst the people in the waterways. And he proved
to be right.
was in 1993 that he founded IMPACT Foundation Bangladesh (IFB)
which is a Charitable Trust and a non-governmental organisation
working in the country as a part of global IMPACT movement.
The mandate of this organisation, which is run by Mansur Chouduri,
a Bangladeshi who had been blinded by a childhood accident,
is to achieve sustainable and affordable change in the pattern
of disability through efforts to prevent avoidable disablement.
Besides the common mandate, the organisation is always searching
to find-out the reasons behind disability and trying find new
ways to prevent avoidable disablement.
John Wilson School in Gulshan was founded in 1995 with just
9 students. It now has 470. Its aim is to give quality English
medium education and to generate funds for the local branch
of IMPACT. This aspires to fulfill the vision of Sir John through
two main projects Jibon Tari and Chaudunga. Jibon Tari is a
floating Hospital which travels to the remote areas of the country,
giving opportunities for medical treatment and surgery to some
of the most disadvantaged of our population. Chaudunga is a
clinic with a wide outreach programme, which not only offers
medical care and surgery but also education in basic hygiene,
childcare and nutrition and so endeavours to prevent disability
brought about through poor diet. The school's principal, other
staff and children make it a point to remember Sir John Wilson
whose birthday was celebrated on January 20. During a school
assembly, surrounded by balloons, students talked about the
work of Sir John and then watched as a giant birthday cake was
cut into enough pieces for everyone.
on January 20, 1919, in Scarborough, England Sir John Wilson
was blinded by a Bunsen burner explosion in a school chemistry
lab at the age of twelve. Yet his determination to overcome
his disability led him to continue his education by learning
Braille and winning a scholarship to Oxford where he gained
degrees in Law and Sociology. He turned his back on the rarefied
college atmosphere where he could have been a professor and
became involved in working for the rehabilitation and employment
of the Blind. Later, he travelled extensively, setting up organisations
for the Blind in some 30 Commonwealth Countries. He initiated
many activities to prevent blindness such as a programme whereby
over 200,000 cataract operations were performed annually in
India. His recognition across the globe drew international respect
and he was able to play a key role in the establishment of the
International Initiative against Avoidable Disablement, now
known as the IMPACT programme. In 1941 he worked as assistant
secretary of the Royal National Institute for the Blind, where
he helped blind people find employment.
1946 Sir John and his wife Jean went on a fact-finding mission
to colonies in the British Empire in order to assess the situation
of blind people. He found an overwhelming need for education
and rehabilitation services which was met by the establishment
of the Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind in 1950. Sir
John Wilson was the founder, in 1947, and first President of
the National Federation of the Blind of the United Kingdom.
John was the Society's Director until his retirement in 1983.
During his tenure he established education and rehabilitation
programmes for the blind in more than thirty countries.
pioneered the concept of prevention of avoidable blindness and
other disabilities in Indian villages of Cataract Camps, which
could perform more than 100 cataract operations in a day. He
and his wife lived for a year in the villages of the blind in
Ghana. He championed the prevention of river blindness by use
of the drug Mectizan or Invermectin. This drug prevented many
millions of people from losing their sight from the bite of
a deadly fly.
John received many honours during his lifetime. In 1975 Queen
Elizabeth knighted him as a Commander of the British Empire
(CBE). In 1993 he received the Albert Schweitzer International
Prize for medicine. Until his death he served as a consultant
to the Secretary General of the United Nations on disability
matters. During his working life he travelled 50,000 to 100,000
miles a year to maintain hands-on contact with blind people
around the world. He always believed that people came first
and should receive help one at a time.
the SWM Desk