Nine year-old Besiana
Besiana is a determined nine year-old girl with dimples. She’s seated at a table burrowing holes in a piece of thick paper with a small sharp tool, using a plastic template to guide her. The activity makes no sense to me but she is purposeful and I watch her curiously, and am joined by her father, Mehmet.
He turns to me, ‘When her sister went to school in the morning, Besiana used to say to me, “why can’t I go to school too?”…’
It’s a good question. Besiana was born blind, but that shouldn’t be a reason not to be at school. However, with no school for blind children in Gjakova she has never had the chance to be in education.
And then you and other generous donors responded to The Ideas Partnership’s campaign to raise money for Braille classes in Gjakova to be run by the town’s Society for the Blind. And since the beginning of this month Besiana has been one of five children learning Braille here three times a week. The plastic template she’s using is one of the tools that her teachers, Xhafer and Shaip (who is blind himself) use to demonstrate to the children how to write in the tactile language whose letters are raised dots.
Mehmet goes on, ‘It makes me so happy that she can go to this school. I don’t have much to give her – I’m unemployed - but I would give anything I could for her. I would give my own eyes for her…’
He’s emotional and we turn back to Besiana burrowing points into the paper. I want to talk to her about her ambitions.
‘What will you do when you’ve learned all the letters?’ I ask.
She frowns and says with a giggle ‘I’ll have a rest.’
‘And then what do you want to do?’
‘I want to become a teacher,’ she says, with the reverence in her voice of a child who has just had her first weeks of encounters with the profession. ‘I’ll teach children to do their homework – I’ll work with blind children and children who can see.’
With a resolute tilt to her chin she turns over the paper where she’s been creating the bumpy Braille letters, and runs her fingers over the marks she’s made. She’s still at the early stage of the alphabet, but she accurately decodes B and then A and B and A again. She sounds them out, and runs them together.
Mehmet looks up.
‘What did she say?’
‘What word is that, Besiana?’ Shaip prompts her.
But her father is murmuring it under his breath already. ‘She read BABA!’
In Albanian it’s the word for Daddy, and Mehmet and I are both misty-eyed now at the achievement of this enthusiastic learner who – thanks to you – at last has a place to learn to write her father’s name.
The children learning Braille for the first time
Besiana learning the alphabet
Besiana reads out loud the word Daddy!