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A Brighter Future

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    A little girl in a pink tracksuit sits next to her mother, full of concentration despite her legs wriggling with excitement. Her face is animated as both hands explore the sensory materials of her book, revealing to her an image that she cannot otherwise see. As the story is read to her, the world comes alive under her fingertips. Each week, An* and her mother travel through the busy streets of the city to exchange books at a small library dedicated to serving visually impaired children. Her parents diligently read these books with her at home, growing her love of learning and preparing her to read braille, offering her a much brighter future than she might otherwise have had. Children with visual impairments in this Southeast Asian country are among the most marginalised in their communities. 

    There is no suitable provision in mainstream schools, and they are not accepted at special schools, whose teaching methods rely on use of vision. Even at the national ‘School for the Blind’ in the capital city, teachers have never received training in working with visually impaired children, and students have little or no access to Braille textbooks. Opportunities to learn are so limited that these children rarely manage to complete their education. But within this unassuming centre, there is fresh hope and opportunity for children like An. Run by Interserve partner Joy* and her local colleague, alongside a dedicated team of volunteers, they have gradually been developing a library of hand-sewn tactile books for visually impaired children over the last six years. Books are shipped to preschools and special schools across the country, and also added to their onsite library: a light, airy room decorated with bright colours, plants and soft furnishings, with tactile cues throughout to aid children’s mobility. Staff not only read with children but can assess their literacy, vision and development. Regular family storytelling sessions involve parents and carers, offering families tools to aid their children’s development and prepare them for school, and most importantly, offering them hope for the future.  

    Photo by Jernej Graj on Unsplash

    Over the ten years that Joy and her husband have served in this country, God has increasingly opened her eyes to the desperate plight of children with additional needs. She has been thrilled to see how He has now begun opening doors to bring hope and life to many children, working increasingly in partnership with local colleagues and professionals. She writes: “When I came here, I laid down all my skills and experience as a teacher of the visually impaired, and was willing to do so. It truly is God who has opened up all the opportunities and I never imagined that one thing would lead to another in this way.” The work is now expanding from tactile books and early literacy to supporting carers with their child’s development from birth right through to starting school. Recently recognised as a social enterprise, they are increasingly involved in raising awareness of the needs of visually impaired people. They have begun offering functional visual assessments for older children, allowing staff to make recommendations for inclusion in mainstream schools. They are also developing training in tactile books, literacy and teaching braille in the local language, enabling parents, carers and teachers to better support their children. Through their work, the lives and futures of children across the region are being transformed.  

    This article was originally published in Interserve’s Annual Impact Report, Summer 2022. * For security reasons the names in this article have been changed.

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