“Blind persons are breadwinners of many families”

“Blind persons are breadwinners of many families”

 Mr. Basharu Danlami is the Director of the Anglo- Nigeria Welfare Association for the Blind (ANWAB). Although blind, the confident and analytical Basharu admits the bling individuals face daunting challenges in Nigeria. But that is because, he argues, the state and many individuals lack the understanding that blind individuals are as talented and capable like sighted persons and all they need is just the chance to prove themselves. That was precisely the reason why ANWAB was established.
Danlami had his primary education at the Pacelli School for the Blind in Lagos, Nigeria, after which he attended King’s College, Lagos for secondary education. He had a round of studies at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, Durham University Business School, and twice at Cambridge University, culminating in degrees in Education/History, MBA, B.A. Law and LL.M. respectively.
He was called to the Nigerian Bar in October 1987. His work experience includes a 12-year stint with the Nigerian Television Authority as a senior producer and part-time work for two years with Radio Nigeria, presenting a magazine programme on the handicapped.
In an exclusive interview with The Intellectual, he opens on the ordeal of blind persons in the country and what the Centre is doing to help.

Excerpts:

 What informed the establishment of the ANWAB Centre for the blind?

   One of the greatest problems faced by visually impaired people in Nigeria – and there are about five million or more – is in the area of education and social welfare.  Most blind people that have emerged successfully have been fortunate to receive help from various quarters that made it possible for them to overcome this immense handicap.

In most advanced countries, service providers, and particularly charitable organisations, usually put into braille or on audiotape textbooks and reading materials for the blind.  Such charities are few and far between in our country and those that work in this area cannot cope with the volume of work that is needed.

Through the years, blind students and workers have found it very difficult to cope in school and at work, due to lack of the appropriate reading materials.  Consequently, examination results have been sometimes poor and finding work or competing favourably with the sighted at work has been difficult.  Since government funding has been limited in this area and since the number of blind persons is not decreasing, the blind must help themselves, working in co-operation with friends both within and outside Nigeria.

It is with these problems in mind that we have, working actively with friends in the United Kingdom (UK), founded a charity to try to alleviate the many obstacles facing the blind people of Nigeria. Although the Anglo-Nigerian Welfare Association for the Blind (ANWAB) commenced operations in 1996, it was first registered in the U.K. with the Charity Commissioners in December 1994 and later with the Corporate Affairs Commission in Nigeria in 1999. It was registered as a non-profit organisation with the main aim of helping to alleviate the numerous problems encountered by blind persons in the country, especially in areas of education, employment and welfare. ANWAB commenced operations at the then Fawehinmi Furniture Factory, Onike, Yaba, Lagos, in October 1996.

The Chairman of the Management Committee,  Mr. Ogie Eboigbe, a retired banker and Communications Consultant, took over in November 2007 from Mrs. Jean Obi, (MBE, MFR), who was the first Chairman of the organisation. The Vice-Chairperson is Miss Barbara Wey, a marketing executive who also works in the Lagos State civil service.

Other members of the Management Committee are Dr. Mosunmade Faderin, an ophthalmic surgeon, Lagos; Mr. David Okon, a visually impaired executive of First Bank of Nigeria Plc and immediate past president of the Nigeria Association of the Blind and Mrs. A.A. Koya, a retired teacher.

The Trustees of ANWAB are Mrs. Jean Obi, Mr. Danlami Basharu and Mr. Ukay Kalu as recorded with the Corporate Affairs Commission of Nigeria.

The Chairman of ANWAB U.K., until its winding up, was the indefatigable Mr. John Bush (now aged 99). Other charity trustees included Mr. Rodney Little, Mr. Adeyemi Dada, Mr. Solomon Odeleye (deceased), Mr. John Simpson (deceased) and his wife Mrs. Pat Simpson and Mrs. Ella Prest.

What kind of activities does the Centre engage in?
One important objective of ANWAB is the transcription of reading materials into Braille or audiotape and training in independent living for all blind persons. The aim is to make blind persons as independent as possible and put them at par with their sighted counterparts.
Other services provided include: Computer training, Internet Café service for the blind using a screen reader, library service, Braille, mobility and typing lessons and generally giving guidance and counseling to the blind, their parents, government and the general public. An important aspect of ANWAB’s work is outreach, i.e., reaching out to blind students all over the country to find out their book needs especially and other sources of support by ANWAB as a facilitator.
Why are the sponsors of the Centre particularly interested in blind individuals?

The blind can be said to be one of the most vulnerable clusters of disabilities and thereby need particular attention to enable them attain their maximum potential. They are most often regarded as mere recipients of charity rather than contributors to the economy. Blind persons are more often than not, likely to be ostracised by the society and even by their families, yet, if given the requisite opportunities, they have proved to be the bread winners of most families.
Which major projects has the Centre undertaken either at the state or federal government level?

We have the Braille Education Project. The first major project undertaken by ANWAB was a three-year grant fund provided by the British National Lottery titled BRAILLE EDUCATION PROJECT. This entailed the employment of extra staff including an outreach officer, whose duty was to go round the 36 states of Nigeria and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, to locate blind students in their various schools. Information gathered included their books and social welfare needs. With this information, ANWAB was able to transcribe into Braille, hundreds of volumes of books which were supplied to blind students all-round the country at subsidised rates.
ANWAB in 2007 set up, with the help of the Ford Foundation, a dedicated Internet Cafe for the blind, the first of its kind in Nigeria. The cyber link helps visually impaired people to carry out research on the world-wide web and generally browse for information and read daily newspapers online. All computers are fitted with JAWS speech software to enable access by the blind.
Also, the Centre, as part of the Ford  (project), also boasts of a Computer Training Unit for training blind people, including women and girls in computer technology. Training is provided in JAWS and OpenBook scanning.
Teaching daily living skills is an important  aspect of training that ANWAB undertakes especially for women and girls. There is the Independent Living room with equipment, donated by the Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors, the Lions Club of Egbeda, Lagos and other foreign donors. These include a washing machine, a gas cooker and refrigerators.
ANWAB also engages in the rehabilitation of newly and already blind individuals, especially those who go blind during their work or educational career and wish to be trained to readjust to a new way of life and return to their various careers. There is training in Braille, mobility and typewriting.

Would you agree that there are enough schools with good facilities for the blind in Nigeria?

It cannot be said with any certainty that there are enough schools with good facilities in the country for the education of the blind. True, most states have special education centres that include the blind, but do not have the requisite materials to warrant quality education for the blind, considering the fact that several of the educational items for the blind are quite expensive.

What are the challenges blind Nigerians face in secondary and tertiary institutions? What does the government need to do?

Blind persons in school face the following challenges: Access to reading materials in Braille; Access to assistive technology products that could facilitate learning; insufficient financial resources to help with the education process. Inability of teachers and lecturers in some educational institutions to understand the needs and requirements of the blind.

Government must intervene to help subsidise some of these educational items if more blind children and their parents can access education. Government also needs to provide scholarships and bursaries to needy blind persons going to school.

What do you think the federal and state governments can do to give the blind a good sense of belonging in Nigeria? For instance, in your opinion, did the federal government give adequate consideration to the blind when the national currency was being designed?

Article 3 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, regarding principles of the Convention, is instructive on what governments need to do with regard to persons with disabilities in every country.

Referring to the General Principles of the Convention, Article 3 states, amongst other things: Non-discrimination; Full and effective participation and inclusion in society; Respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity; Equality of opportunity.

These principles have not been put into full effect in Nigeria, such that persons with disabilities continue to suffer from discrimination on account of their disabilities. Accessibility remains a ground for serious concern, where wheel chair users, for instance, still find it difficult to access physical structures and blind and deaf persons find it difficult to access information in appropriate formats.

More importantly, there needs to be a level playing field where persons with disabilities, especially the blind, can be properly mainstreamed into the society and participate fully and effectively in the socio-economic and political development of the nation. It is often the case where decisions are taken over and above the heads of persons with disabilities, even where it affects them, such as denoting the currency for the country.

In terms of employment, do companies employ qualified blind individuals?

In terms of employment, companies employ blind persons, not necessarily on the basis of qualification, but merely as doing them a favour to be employed. Having been employed, they are not put in the appropriate duty they deserve such that many blind persons end up in the companies’call centres or some other menial area regardless of the requisite qualifications they hold. They are often the last to be promoted or sometimes have juniors promoted above them.

When blind people need medical attention, are they given the required assistance at government hospitals?

When blind people need medical attention, they often have to follow the process like all others. It is only in rare cases that they are given any consideration as a result of the need for them to have priority attention.

Finally, what would you describe as the Centre’s key achievements since its establishment.

In November 1996: Braille transcription of the very first text books for blind students at Queen’s College, Yaba, Lagos. January 1997: Commencement of Braille transcription of examination question papers into Braille for blind students at Queen’s College, King’s College, Federal Government College, Ijanikin and Ansarudeen College, all in Lagos.

September 1999: Fabrication of locally made guide canes for the blind and styluses for writing; introduction of computer training for the blind.

October 2002: First National Chess Championship for the blind.

October 2006: Tenth anniversary of ANWAB – celebration of White Cane Day and Second National Chess Championship.

March 2007: Launching of Ford Foundation projects – Internet Café for the blind, Computer training Facilities and a bus for the centre.

August 2008: First ANWAB OPEN DAY First Mobility and Orientation TRAIN-THE-TRAINERS workshop for the Southern states, held in Lagos and sponsored by Ford Foundation.

October 2008: Production and launching of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution in Braille by ANWAB, sponsored by Network Project for the Disabled (NPD)

July 2009: Production of the Uwais Electoral Reform Recommendations, sponsored by the International Republican Institute

August 2009: 2nd Orientation and Mobility Train-the-Trainers Workshop for Northern States held in Kaduna and sponsored by Ford Foundation.

October 2nd, 2009: First-ever ‘”DINNER IN THE DARK”, an event organised by ANWAB and supported by Lions Club District 404B, designed to raise awareness of the daily constraints of blind people having to manage in the dark.

2010 – 2011: Production of books in Braille for the National Open University of Nigeria for blind students in the university.

March 2011: ANWAB launched ANWAB chess club at the Media Centre of the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, for  training blind persons how to play chess.

May-June, 2011: ANWAB conducts in-house Braille production training for Kebbi School for the Handicapped; July 2011: Perkins School for the Blind, USA, donates, through ANWAB, 30 Perkins braille machines for distribution to schools for the blind in Nigeria.

 August 2011: 2nd ANWAB Open Day. February 2012: Commencement of first phase of MTN Foundation scholarship scheme for blind students. June 2012: Workshop in Braille, mobility and chess for the FCT School for the Blind, Jabi, Abuja, sponsored by the T.Y. Danjuma Foundation. November 2012: Commencement of Phase 2 of the MTN Foundation Scholarship scheme for blind students.

December 2012: Launching of Independent Living Skills training. May-June 2013: Workshop in Braille, mobility and Chess for Special Education Centre for the Handicapped, Mutum Biyu, Taraba State, sponsored by the T.Y. Danjuma Foundation.

July 2013: Commencement of Phase 3 of MTN Scholarship Scheme for Blind Students. October 19th to 26th, 2014: First ANWAB AWARENESS WEEK – a week of events aimed at creating more public awareness of ANWAB and its activities which included a seminar on Education of the blind through technology and living in a home, a charity walk and the Second Dinner in the Dark.

The activities of ANWAB have helped to heighten awareness about the needs and challenges of the blind in Nigeria; encouraged more blind children to go to school since their parents are rest assured that textbooks and other facilities and services will be available and, generally, given the blind a greater sense of belonging and independence.

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