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See Me; Braille Education for 10 Blind Kosovars

by The Ideas Partnership
See Me; Braille Education for 10 Blind Kosovars
See Me; Braille Education for 10 Blind Kosovars
See Me; Braille Education for 10 Blind Kosovars
See Me; Braille Education for 10 Blind Kosovars
See Me; Braille Education for 10 Blind Kosovars
See Me; Braille Education for 10 Blind Kosovars
Instructor Shaip teaching one of the students
Instructor Shaip teaching one of the students

   In the last three months the children who are part of The Ideas Partnerships' Braille and Mobility Classes and were registered in school, with the help of our partners "The Society of the Blind" in Gjakova, have been on their summer holidays. That didn't stop Xhafer and Shaip, two of the most talented Braille instructors, visit them in their homes to meet with them and their parents and have the chance of not only monitoring their well-being but also go through every lesson they've learned and try to help them remember most parts.

"It is very difficult to ask the children to remember the lessons they've learned before considering the non-consistency and the amount of time passed during which these classes stopped being held at the centre of The Society of the Blind due to the lack of funding", says Xhafer. Highlighting the importance that the Braille and Mobility Classes have had in the lives of the five visually impaired youngsters Sadik, Besiana, Elfete, Rinor and Alaudin in Gjakova, Xhafer also mentioned the need of continuing these classes for other less fortunate children and youth, who are often isolated from the society. They don't get the same chance of being included in the mainstream education system.

Sadik, Besiana, Elfete, Rinor, and Alaudin are very grateful for your donations that made possible for them to learn how to read and made them feel equal to other children.

The Ideas Partnership is asking for help in giving the chance of education to blind children by donating in support of this project, as we are keen on continuing it and don’t want to lose the hard work put in. 

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Braille instructors, Xhafer and Shaip
Braille instructors, Xhafer and Shaip

One year ago, the parents of the blind children in Gjakova had lost hope that their children would ever be able to learn to read. With no school for blind people in Gjakova, they have never had the chance to be in education. But then The Ideas Partnership started the campaign to raise money for Braille classes which were to be run by the Society for the Blind there. After we received generous donations from you, we have been able to start the Braille classes for five children in Gjakova. The Braille instructors, Shaip and Xhafer, were really happy that they got to put their skills to use to advance the lives of these children who were born blind. Until now, five children have successfully completed Braille classes. One of them is even attending mainstream school in the village where he lives.

“We are really proud to see the children’s progress. They were offered no support whatsoever growing up and it was very hard for them and for their families to have no opportunities to get them to school. What we are offering here, with the support of The Ideas Partnership, is a chance for the blind children to access education which is a human right after all”, says teacher Shaip, who being blind himself knows the importance of early education in shaping one’s future. He had had the opportunity to attend school when he was young and then landed a job shortly after.

Shaip and Xhafer have also identified three more children who need help in learning Braille. We are kindly asking you to help them get this opportunity. Your donations have made it all possible, so far. But, would you like to help three other blind children get the gift of reading Braille?

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Lendrit and his mother Leonora
Lendrit and his mother Leonora

A project that keeps on giving

Lendrit is currently attending 5th class in the regular school, despite being partially sighted. His mother, Leonora (in the picture above), is separated from her husband and living on her own in rented accommodation with Lendrit and his sibling. She is concerned that he is falling behind because of his disability. The Blind Society in Gjakova have helped Lendrit with new glasses and with enlarged texts so the learning can be easier for him. He has come to our center in Gjakova three times so far, being tutored by the professional teachers there. But he is certainly a very bright child who needs additional help. The Ideas Partnership has funded this project for quite a while now, depending a lot on the generous private donations. Lendrit needs your help so his disability won’t be on his way to the bright path of learning.

From your generous donations, we have been able to support five children to complete Braille classes up to date. Sadik, Alaudin, Besjana, Rinor, and Elfete have all completed successfully the classes offered by the Society of the Blind. Of these, three (Sadik, Alaudin, Elfete) are attending the residential school for the blind in Gjakova. Rinor is attending mainstream school in the village where he lives in Prizren.

With your help, we can offer more weekly support sessions for other children who are a part of the program and also other kids who are not receiving the help they need.

Support The Ideas Partnership’s project so we can offer an equal opportunity for education to the blind children!

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Eight year old Elfete
Eight year old Elfete

Entering the classroom is a relief. It is forty degrees celsius outside - energy sapping, lethargy inducing heat. The blinds in the classroom are keeping the sun at bay. It is cool in here and in contrast to the sweaty lethargy I am trying to shake myself out of, there is an atmosphere of industry in here. There are three children seated around a circular bright red table which holds various items including three Braille writers, a wooden contraption that looks like a small bench with circular holes drilled into it and pieces of card on which have been stuck raised shapes of different dimensions. One instructor, Shaip, is leaning over a student offering encouragement, while the other instructor, Xhafer is apologizing to us. Because of the intense heat, two of the students are at home sick. They really wanted to be here today, but instead he and Shaip have delivered their lessons to them at home.

This class is run by the Blind Society in Gjakova. Students attend classes three times a week and learn life skills, how to read and write Braille and also how to be independently mobile. Classes run for four hours on each school day, with an extra hour for lunch whereby the instructors ensure that the students are being provided with adequate nutrition in an effort to prevent unnecessary health problems and aid mobility. Both teachers were trained by experts from the Czechs Republic and are licensed by the Ministry of Education. Shaip, who is himself blind, has taught Braille for years in both Kosovo and in Belgrade, Serbia. As the two boys present in the class tap away diligently on their Braille writers, engrossed in their respective tasks, Shaip demonstrates for us how Braille is written by hand.

There are stages in these classes in terms of mobility and reading and writing Braille, and the students can all be at differing levels. First the teachers help their new students to develop sensitivity in their finger tips and interpret what they are feeling through the sheets of card with raised objects stick to them. The small wooden bench with six holes in it is used to teach Braille letters - wooden pins can be inserted or removed according to the formation of each letter. This is the next stage of learning Braille literacy. Eight year old Elfete is currently using this tool while she is learning the letters. Much more shy and unsure than the two boys in the class who exude confidence, Xhafer explains that she joined the course much later than they did. Having lived in a village and being kept in the family home completely isolated from society, she used to become extremely distressed about leaving her house and coming to the classes. She had previously had no contact with anybody outside of her home. Although she is still adapting, she has made a lot of progress. She no longer gets upset about coming to class, and is calmly learning to interpret the world around her through her finger tips. Being able to read will open up entire new worlds for her.

Once the students have learned to recognize letters and can write Braille by hand, they move on to using Braille writers…. a kind of clunky typewriter which punches raised dots in the corresponding places on the paper. We interrupt Sadik, a fifteen year old who has been studiously getting on with his work using his Braille writer, in order to ask him some questions in English, a language they are also learning during these classes. “What’s your name?” “Sadik” he answers. “How old are you?” “Fifteen.” “Where are you from?,” to which he proudly answers “Kosovo” before allowing himself a moment of glory as his instructors praise him for doing such a good job in this other language.

Once Sadik has returned to fastidiously typing out words on his Braille writer, Xhafer explains that the Blind Society has five hundred members. There is a higher percentage of blind people in Gjakova than elsewhere, yet there is no school for the blind here. These classes offered by Shaip and Xhafer are currently the only education available. They are currently discussing the possibility of their brightest students attending government school and doing their work in Braille, as there are no special needs classes in the public school in Gjakova either. In fact, there are only ten Braille instructors in the whole of Kosovo. If these classes in Gjakova were not running, there would simply be no education for these children and young people. They would likely be doomed to a life of seclusion and isolation as Elfete was before she began attending. Sixty percent of the funding for these classes comes from The Ideas Partnership. The rest comes from private donations.

These classes are designed to equip students to lead independent, fulfilling lives – so much so, that computer programmes based upon sound and talking smart phones are the final stage of education here. The instructors are so dedicated that in the past, if there was a funding drought, they continued on without pay, as they tell us that if Braille education is interrupted, sensitivity in the finger tips can be lost and the student will have to start again from the beginning – better to continue on as volunteers they say, rather than lose all the hard work they and the students have put in. Ideas Partnership funding not only means that the classes remain established and safe, but also that a curriculum can be developed and resources purchased.

The success of these classes is illustrated through both current students and alumni. Five previous students were awarded scholarships from a private university and have successfully attained bachelors degrees. They now have families of their own. One previous student is now employed as a translator, using a sound-based computer for his work. As for current students, Sadik is now beginning to walk on his own. A spinal injury compounded by other health problems meant that for years he didn’t move. The first time he stood up, taking his weight on his legs was in here in class with his instructors. This particular Blind Society group also held the title of Goal Ball champions (a football containing a bell) for two years in a row. Independence, education and sport, three things easily taken for granted, but without the Ideas Partnership, these students would likely have access to none of these things.

Teacher Shaip helping Sadik
Teacher Shaip helping Sadik
The classes take place three times per week
The classes take place three times per week
Sadik has difficulties walking
Sadik has difficulties walking
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The children attending the Braille lessons
The children attending the Braille lessons

I walked into the classroom of the Society of the Blind in Gjakova as some students were finding
their seats and others eagerly waiting for the lesson to start. To my surprise, they were no longer
using the six-holed wooden structures which helped them to recognize Braille. Instead, each
student was using a Brailler - a Braille typewriter.

As soon as everyone sat, the braille instructor, Shaip, started dictating and students typed away.
Their little fingers searched for the right button, and once they found it, they used all of their
upper body strength to push it. After writing each sentence, they would reach over and touch the
white paper with braille in it to make sure they had written it correctly. Some of them barely
reached over the machine, but their efforts were rewarded as they reached the end of the sentence
and realized that they wrote it correctly. I marvelled at their dedication, and after taking a few
photos, I prepared to leave.

Instead of leaving the room, I was left speechless by what happened next. As I gathered my stuff,
Besiana noticed that her headband had fallen off, and asked me to help her find it. After handing
it to her, she said “Look, I can do this all by myself now”. With the brightest smile on her face,
Besiana took the headband and put it on without anyone helping her. At the end, she tucked
away some of the hair that had slipped from the headband, and turned to say “See, I did it”.

OK, I thought to myself – here is another story about our amazing Besiana. But this time, there
was another story. After Besiana put her headband on, Sadik said “Look at what I can do” and
got up. I was stunned. When Sadik first started attending these classes, he used crutches and
could barely walk. He has a physical disability that makes it hard for him to balance, and for the
first few weeks, his mum would bring him to classes and stay with him to assist him. Now, he
could get up and walk without crutches and all by himself. His smile as he got up remains stuck
in my head.

I cannot say that there is a correlation between attending Braille classes and gaining the skills
and abilities that Besiana and Sadik have gained. Regardless, I could see how the socialization
that happens in these classes is a motivating factor for them because they get to show off their
new skills.

I left the classroom extremely inspired and happy that TIP is supporting these classes. On my
way home, I passed a pharmacy. I could not help but think “Caution: Learning Braille might
include the following side effect: empowerment”. More than ever, I was grateful to all those who
have donated to make these classes possible. It is the third month of classes, and all expenses
have been covered by your generous donations, so thank you!
And Braille is just one of the skills that these students are learning.

The children are now using Braillers
The children are now using Braillers
Little Besiana adjusting her headband
Little Besiana adjusting her headband
Sadik and teacher Shaip
Sadik and teacher Shaip
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Organization Information

The Ideas Partnership

Location: Prishtina - Kosovo
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @kosovarngo
Project Leader:
elizabeth gowing
Prishtina, Kosovo

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