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     Volume 8 Issue 80 | July 31, 2009 |

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Lead Us from Darkness to Light

Audity Falguni
The campus of the school for the blind.

As 12-year-old Mohammad Mokhlesur Rahman composes rhymes and poems on his own in Braille, he decides to recite one from his favourite poet, Shamsur Rahman, with profound passion, “Mon e amar jhalsey othe ekattar er kotha/ pakhir danai likhechilam priyo swadinata (My mind sharply recalls of 1971/ when I wrote the beloved word `freedom' on the wings of the birds).”

Mokhlesur, a visually impaired boy, is one of the fifty students of the `School for Visually Impaired Children,' one of the three schools of National Special Education Centre (Jatiya Bishesh Shikhkha Kendro) directed by the Ministry of Social Welfare in Mirpur. The other two schools belonging to this centre are for the mentally challenged and children with hearing-impairment. 13-year-old Amena Akhter Shilpi and her other classmates, Fahima Akter Sathi (13), Kakoli Rani Roy (15), Tahmina Akhter Iva (14), Sharmin Akter Dalia (15), Tama Rani Das (14) and Asia Akhter (15) were singing in chorus during their recess. Many of these girls wish to be teachers, singers or even both.

A hearing impaired teacher.

The Special Education Centre was first established on 16th September 1991, supported by Education of the Blind in Bangladesh, a Norwegian Association of the Blind & Partially Sighted project. The initial project funding back then was 1.6 million or 16 crore. “The then Norwegian Project Director, Carl-Fredrik Lindstorm inspired us to commence the journey together,” says Serajul Haque Bhuyian, the Head Teacher of the school. “His pioneering assistance helped us to introduce special courses like Braille English, Bengali, Braille gardening, poultry farming, mathematics, science and religious education, mobility ADL (Activities for Daily Living), religious knowledge, social studies, coir work in the Education Curriculum for the visually impaired students.”

At present, there are 64 schools for the blind in 64 districts of the country along with five more schools in five divisions including Dhaka, Chittagong, Rajshahi, Khulna and Barisal. “We train students in these schools only up to class V,” says Bhuyian. “The students then continue with their studies in regular schools at Secondary and Higher Secondary levels under the auspices of Integrated Education Project for the Visually Impaired students.”

A student appearing for his class test on Braille.

Mariam Khatun, has been working here since 1991. “We have 50 residential students of which 20 are female and 30 male,” she says. “There are separate hostels for male and female students in this campus. Most of the students come from poor families, and so their parents are unable to bear the costs. The students you see here have come from distant corners of the country including Noakhali, Panchagarh, Pabna, Lalmanirhat, Gaibandha, Kishoreganj or Brahmmanbaria. They get three vacations per year including two Eid vacations and one summer vacation.”

The school has a very limited number of seats and the children have to go through a series of IQ tests so that the authorities know which class to put them in. “Because of their challenge, generally the primary level students in our school are older than their contemporaries in other regular schools,” says Khatun. “Some children start school at the age of 10 or 12. Children in Class IV are as old as 16 or 17 years,” she explains.

There are also some visually impaired teachers such as Mohammad Jahangir Alam and Kalpana Akhter who completed their Bachelors and their Masters from the Department of Islamic History of Dhaka University. Students like Mohammad Abu Nayeem Mamun and Sharif Ahmed now study at Dhaka University in Political Science and Law respectively. “We studied in this school up to Class V,” they say. “Later on we went to regular schools and now we are studying at Dhaka University.” Recently, the school also completed a publication of the Holy Quran in Braille.

A visually impaired child plays the harmonium.

According to the teachers of the school, around 60 per cent of the visually impaired children belong to parents who are paternal or maternal cousins. “This custom should be discouraged in our society,” says a teacher. “In most cases, such marriages cause lots of physical challenges within children.” Glucoma, cataract, small pox, typhoid in early childhood, and malnutrition particularly in the poverty-stricken North Bengal regions are some of the causes behind blindness also.

Eight-year-old Rupam's tale is shocking. Student of Class II, Rupam underwent a brain tumour surgery at the age of two and half. “After that, I lost my eye sight,” says Rupam. His father is a businessman in Mirpur and Rupam lives with his family. He is not a resident student at the school like the other children.

The children in the school, despite their impairment, were moving about freely without the help of a stick. Mohammad Saidul Islam, the mobility teacher, says, “We do not offer the training on use of white stick before class V. We educate the primary level students to use landmarks, know the stairs, corridors, passageways and their way around to the dormitories. We also train them in the use of voice and touch. Visually impaired children are generally good with recognition based on smell, touch and hearing sensibilities.”

Adolescent blind students.

The teachers, however, admit that the students sometimes succumb to depression and juvenile delinquencies like small thefts and quarrels between themselves. “As they live detached from their families, they grow as a community by themselves,” says Islam. “At one point, the adolescent boys and girls also tend to 'fall in love' with each other. We counsel them and talk to them so that they can share their feelings with us. Sometimes they even share the problems that they face in their romance as well!”

It is quite unfortunate that there are not many such schools in the country, which can tend to the needs of these children. Obviously, we need more centres and educational institutions where these children will be specially trained and educated to face the world once they grow up. In the words of the ancient sages and philosophers, the divine nature lead all human beings and creatures in the universe from darkness to light, from falsehood to truth and from death to immortality.


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