Brighter future for Tibet’s blind community

a group of tibetans sitting on the ground

For the past 10 years, The Intrepid Foundation has worked with Braille Without Borders to support their efforts to make a better life for Tibet’s blind. Around 15% of the population has severe vision impairment and sadly this is well above the average of most other countries.

Braille Without Borders commenced in 1998 in Lhasa, with the opening of the first rehabilitation and training centre for the blind in the Tibetan Autonomous Region. The main goal is the integration and acceptance of the blind in the Tibetan society, through the four major projects:
– Implementation of a preparatory school for blind children.
– Production of educational materials for the blind.
– Preparation of a reintegration program, facilitating the return to local schools and home life.
– Realisation of a vocational training which gives blind people an opportunity and skills to generate their own income.
A few years back if you travelled on Intrepid’s Mountains & Monasteries trip through Eastern China and into Tibet, you were more than likely to be the custodian of some precious cargo – braille paper. Originally braille paper was difficult to source in Tibet and it was essential to the early operations of Braille Without Borders, in particular its braille printing press that it uses to produce educational materials for the blind.

“In order to run the braille book production, one very important ingredient was required: braille paper! Every time the stock of paper was decreasing, we were always thrilled to know that another Intrepid group would soon visit and bring us valuable paper across from Eastern China,” said Braille Without Borders founders, Paul and Sabriye.

Many things have changed since 2002. Now 10 years down the line, the project in Lhasa is being managed by Nyima Wengdu, a former student. The braille printing press is lead by Gyendsen, also a former student. In addition to the medical massage, preparatory school and braille printing press, a vocational training farm was established in Shigatse. In this centre training is offered in skills and vocations such as animal husbandry, market gardening, agriculture, compost production, cheese production, baking bread, knitting, carpet weaving, kitchen management etc. And since a year ago, Kyila, another former graduate, also runs her own Kiki’s Kindergarten in the Braille Without Borders farm.

Nowadays the school in Lhasa has 37 students including 10 medical massage students. The farm houses 63 students and 20 Kiki’s kids. Many graduates have set up their own massage clinics. Also many students attend regular schools from primary, middle to high school. They were the first handicapped students ever to enrol in regular education in Tibet. The next goal is to open up a university for the blind, partially sighted and also other handicapped students.

Since the start of the Braille Without Borders project there has been a change in the attitude of the sighted society towards the blind in Tibet. People have become more aware that blind people are capable of becoming breadwinners in their families and add value to society!

“We are happy that Intrepid groups visit our projects. They learn about the fact that blindness does not equal darkness, that a blind person might have a different life and way of living, but that it certainly does not mean that their lives are less valuable or have less quality. Many Intrepid travellers have become ambassadors of Braille Without Borders and spread the word about the existence of the project. And over the past ten years, The Intrepid Foundation as well as the Intrepid travellers have supported the cause of Braille Without Borders by purchasing aids, such as canes and braille slates, and funding building needs. On behalf of all the students and colleagues we want to wish The Intrepid Foundation HAPPY BIRTHDAY and we want to say THANK YOU very much for your great support!”

Photo: © Braille Without Borders

About the author

Sue Elliot - Like many of us, Sue contracted a serious travel bug at an early age. She's visited over 90 countries in search of a cure, but her wanderlust just seems to get worse. Thankfully at Intrepid Travel she's amongst people who understand the affliction and since 1998 Sue has enjoyed being our blog and newsletter editor. Here you'll find helpful travel advice and inspiring tales from Sue and other Intrepid travellers.

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