Between fear and new beginnings: The integration of blind students

National Yemen

Group of blind girls at laboratory room learn how to type

By: Asma Al-Mohattwari

They are creative and carry will and determination inside them. Disabled children are like any others who have hopes, aspirations and rights. Yet behind their eyes, they hide a confusion which exceeds all dimensions – constantly treading the line between bravery and steps of retreat. In their minds, they ask, “Are we different from others in some way? Do they have rights and we something else?

A great fear held by disabled Yemeni children concern society’s reaction to themselves, whether it will accept their disabilities or respond to them with stigmas and contempt. For this reason, it is best that people with disabilities be integrated into their communities at a young age.

The Aman Association for the Care of the Blind began doing just this, integrating Yemeni blind students into their communities, in 1997, in 11 governorates throughout Yemen. It began in Sana’a with the integration of three students.

At present, there are 121 girls and 88 boys in Sana’a schools who received assistance from the association.

New situations

Jamila Ghalep Al-Rubba, who transferred from the Al-Noor School for Blind Students to study at the Al-Jeel Al-Jadeed School, said that in the beginning, students at the school and society in general regarded her as ineffective and as a burden.

“They made me feel like I was a strange person or a heavy burden on them. But in spite of all the obstacles and difficulties that stood before me, I didn’t surrender and proved that I could do what I wanted like anyone in society, and also that my disability wouldn’t stop me,” she said.

Jamila was able to involve herself in everything and is now responsible for her school’s Cultural Committee. She even introduced a publication called the Blind Message Magazine.

Nidhal Al-Shadadi from Al-Shab School said that his situation was extremely difficult when he transferred from Al-Noor School to Al-Shab School. He said he was introverted and liked to be alone because the treatment at his new school was so bad.

“But the situation did not continue for so long. Because of some of the programs which were held at the school, everyone began to recognize and learn the best ways to deal with the blind. In the end, people need to be aware and educated to accept the blind,” said Nidhal.

‘Keep silent, you’re blind’

“To receive humiliation from students, schools, and people outside is something normal and we can ignore it; but what really harms and destroys us is when we receive such things from our families,” said Ashwaq Al-Thifani, a student at Halima School.

Ashwaq said she is satisfied with her fate and that it is better than what others have, because there is a private room and educational tools for blind students at her school. For other blind students who aren’t so lucky, she said, the Ministry of Education fails to meet their educational needs.

“What really hurts me is when I try to express my opinion about anything and people around me laugh at me and say, ‘Keep silent, you’re blind – no more!’ How can they want us to accept the integration process when the community itself rejects it?”

First awareness program

Elham Shaiea, the principal of Sana’a’s 14th of October School, said that training and rehabilitation courses should be held and organized for people with disabilities by the Ministry of Education and concerned agencies. She said that only one such training session had been organized since 1997, and that all schools must be made aware of the importance of process of integrating disabled students into schools.

Sukina Al-Harab, the principal of the Al-Jeel Al-Jadeed School, confirmed she didn’t have any resources for blind students. While the school has blind students at different grade levels, she said there were no follow-up visits by the Comprehensive Education Office.

“We hope that the concerned authorities will provide the blind students with what they need, like others, and we wish for a quick implementation of their most basic rights,” she said.

In a quick reply, Abdul-Karim Al-Mesbahi, Deputy Director of the Comprehensive Education Office in Sana’a, said, “Our office strives to provide a fertile environment to complete the integration process; it is a matter of time – no more, no less.

He also stressed that the all organizations and associations for people with disabilities should work together to foster an awareness of the rights of the disabled.”