Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Dream of Visually Impaired Person Hangs on the Balance

Does He Not Have A Right To Higher Education?

A visually impaired young person, Sulayman Sowe, talks about the efforts being made in his quest to acquire higher education. He explains the response of some of the institutions he had approached in this pursuit.

Foroyaa: How did you start your education?

Sowe: I started at Campama Primary School in Banjul, where the school for the visually impaired was stationed. We were taught how to read and write in Braille. In the said school, we, the visually impaired students, were integrated with sighted ones. After completing primary school, I attended Crab Island Junior Secondary School and School for Educational Pursuit (SEP) Senior Secondary School.

Foroyaa: How did you fare in your educational pursuit? Was it very tough for you?

Sowe: Initially, when I started from grade one to seven, I found it very easy. However, it was the later part has been extremely rough for me.

Foroyaa: As a visually impaired student, were you provided with all the facilities you needed?

Sowe: Well, from grade one up to eight; I was provided with some of the basic facilities I needed. However, when I reached grade nine, even to get a Braille machine was a problem for me. It was however a personal friend of mine who bought Braille machine for me. Some of my visually impaired colleagues were faced with the same problem and they had to rely on my Braille machine for their class work and lessons. It was again a Nigerian friend of mine who bought me a type writer machine which enabled me to communicate with sighted people.

Foroyaa: What was the experience like sharing the same class with sighted students?

Sowe: Sharing the same class with sighted students was a very good experience for me. It enabled me to build friendship with some of them who turned out to be very helpful to me. They would read what was on the black board for me to write it in Braille or type it if it is a class work for a teacher to read. I have learnt a lot from them and I’m sure that they too have also learnt something from me. In addition, my classmates were very cooperative, cordial and opened towards me. It is unfortunate that some persons with visual impairment do stay away from interacting with sighted people. I personally found that to be uncalled for and anti social. Those with such attitude should change.

Foroyaa: When actually did you complete high school and after that have you attempted to pursue any course?

Sowe: Actually, I completed high school in 2006. However, after completing, I attempted to further my education, but the response I got from institutions of higher education is that their facilities cannot cater for the needs of people with visual impairment. And when they told me this, I told them to consult with organizations dealing with the visually impaired so as to get advice as to how to handle students such as me. I reminded such institutions that persons with visual impairment have a right to education and that they make efforts to cater for them as well. Unfortunately, some were not keen. So far, the only institution that has been helpful in the education of persons with visual impairment is GTTI. Unfortunately for me, the GTTI is not offering the course I want to study.

Foroyaa: How did you feel when you were told that the facilities you need as a visually impaired student cannot be catered for by such schools of higher learning?

Sowe: Well, I was surprised. As a Gambian, I thought I have every right, just like any other compatriot, to be educated here. But, unfortunately this is not the case for us at least.. It is utterly disheartening that in this twenty first century, such systematic discrimination of visually impaired people is going on right here and that no one seems to be taking note. It is only the victims who experience the anguish and trauma. We believe we have potentials. But our hearts are broken simply because we are not given the opportunity to explore our potentials. Well, one cannot find oneself in a more frustrating situation than this.

Moreover, what is even more striking was when a Dutch lady wanted to open an account for me at a particular bank. Unbelievably, I was told by the officials that the particular bank did not have access for the blind. Upon hearing this, the Dutch lady broke into tears. However, when we talked to the branch manager of the said bank, but he told us that they do not yet have a facility for blind people to operate accounts.

Foroyaa: When was this?

Sowe: This happened in 2005, around the month of August. This bitter experience has left me without a bank and the Dutch lady’s good intentions were rendered naught. Foroyaa: Where does your dream of getting higher education lie now. Do you still plan to accomplish your dream of pursuing higher education?

Sowe: I am still very much determined to pursue and accomplish my dream of acquiring higher education. Even if this means going beyond the borders of this country, I’ll still go for it. In this respect, I am therefore appealing for support so that I can further my education.

Foroyaa: What actually do you want to study?

Sowe: I would want to study engineering. I t is possible for me to realize my dream of becoming an engineer if the opportunity exist for me to do so.

Foroyaa: Some people may wonder how a visually impair person can become an engineer?

Sowe: I would like to assure such people that it is possible for us to be engineer if we are given the opportunity to pursue courses in engineering. Knowledge and skills are learnt by those with brains and we have brains just like the sighted people. Our visual impairment is just a challenge that can be surmounted when the opportunity is created. This is no fiction. You have engineers, doctors, lawyers, technicians etc. who are visually impaired. As for me, I Am ready to be a roll model and a light that can be can be source of inspiration.
Submitted by Fatou Malang.
Source: Foroyaa Newspaper, Gambia

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