Thursday, November 22, 2012

Hope Meets the Brailler

Today is Thanksgiving Day in America. What I am most thankful for at the moment is that I have such generous caring friends and community back in the USA. When I asked for help getting a brailler for Hope, a young blind woman in my village, the response was immediate, and overwhelming. It did not take long for people to research costs and find a way to organize the collection of funds. And it did not take long on 'this side' to find someone to sell me a brailler at a price that would eliminate the need to pay for shipping.

What did take time was getting Hope connected to the brailler. When I approached the community library with the idea of donating the brailler to them so that other vision impaired people in the community could use it, they decided it was best to present it to the library during culture week, specifically on the day of culture week devoted to education. Yes, I thought, a good idea. So I told Hope it was on the way and could she join me at the library for the presentation. Unfortunately Hope could not come, as she is now in school during the week. I was disappointed that no one from her family could be there either, but when I stood up to present the Brailler I told the community that it was actually a gift from Hope, whose strength and energy had mobilized my friends at home to make this possible. I spoke of my writing group, The Great Darkness, and other friends who contributed, and the community was excited to be one of the first, if not the only, community library to have a brailler.

I handed the brailler over to the librarian and she said "This is now the property of the Botswana Government." My heart sank to my dusty shoes. And, if any of the photos that were promised to me ever arrive, you would see my face had fallen that far as well. This is one of the quiet problems here in Botswana. A country that 40 years ago did not have a single paved road, much less a community library, has managed to become one of the most developed bureaucracies I've ever experienced. I had visions of the brailler being stamped with a number and put into a store room where it would never be touched by human hands.

Thus began my weekly visits to the library to 'check on the brailler.' I asked if Hope could use the brailler at home and was told that they needed to know who would be responsible for it (as it was now government property of course) and they assured me there were in the process of 'processing it.' Finally, I called Hope to find a day she was free and said 'we are going to the library.' Hope had never been to the library, and I never 'guided' a blind person. She showed me how to hold her arm and in reality, she guided me--with her long white cane tapping through the dust and gravel.

Once there,  Marea the librarian graciously brought out the brailler and Big Son (that is his name) came in to see what it was all about. Hope began to type and others in the library sat in silence watching. I sat back and listened to them discuss things in Setswana, and realized that Big Son had figured out the pattern of braille was mathematical. He immediately sat down and had Hope 'translate' the braille alphabet for him.  I told Marea I would be willing to sign out the brailler on my library card and be responsible for it. After a bit of discussion, the staff decided they could give Hope her own library card and sign it out to her. Big Son said he was a neighbor and he would carry it to her place at the end of the day, which he did.

On the walk back to her place Hope told me she remembered Big Son's face from when she was sighted, ten years ago. We have been talking with an NGO in the capital, Gaborone, about working on information for blind people. "I will have work," Hope says, and is very excited about being able to create a newsletter in braille. It will take time, I know, but somehow the bureaucracy has aligned: Hope had applied to go to school in merchandising, but the government powers that be only had one place open for her: journalism.