Blinds find a new life in Tibet by Paul Kronanberg & Sabriye Tenberker
It is 7 o’clock in the morning. The first sounds of people waking up are heard on the courtyard of the “Project for the Blind, Tibet”. It is very cold. In the dormitory, 15 blind children get up to start a new day of school.. Breakfast, watery rice-pudding, tsampa and butter-tea will be served in a few minutes. The children like this food very much. This day is another one in which they will learn to write and read. They are highly motivated and straight after their morning meal, they get up and walk to the classroom where they start preparations for today’s lessons.
On wooden boards Velcro dots are glued in groups of six. Every group represents the dots of one Braille Character.
The children first learn the script in this rough form. Later when the motor skills and movements of the hand are trained, and all the characters are learned, they switch to Braille on paper. Sabriye Tenberken (German, 29), herself blind, developed the Tibetan Braille script initially for her own use at the Bonn university where she studied Central Asian sciences. Now this script is being used here. In addition to this script, the children learn Chinese Braille, English Braille and the basics of mathematics and arithmetics. Further they are trained in mobility and skills to make the daily living. Together with Paul Kronenberg, (Dutch, 31) Sabriye Tenberken founded the “Project for the Blind, Tibet”.
In Tibet, religion plays an important role in the treatment of the blind and the handicapped. If a person is blind or handicapped it can be seen as a punishment for bad behaviour in a previous life. So why should they help these people? Nowadays, a lot of Tibetans visit the project and they see that the children are very happy and that they have the ability to read, write, walk independently, play, wash themselves and their clothes. The staff of the project explains what is wrong with the eyes of the children and the Tibetans respect the children as they are. This is generally a very important step towards complete acceptance of the blind in the society .
At present 15 blind children are receiving education. The infrastructure in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (T.A.R.) is not very well developed. The country is very big and the distance between villages stretches vastly. The children who come from remote villages are boarded in the school. In the future the children will be housed with guest-families in Lhasa. Then they will visit their school as “day-scholars.”
After two years of training in the Project for the Blind, Tibet they will be integrated in regular elementary schools in their villages. Because of religious reasons or overprotection, some children are locked away in dark rooms for a great part of their lives. A few children with such a background once came to the school. At first they were very shy and hardly looked like human beings at all. It showed immediately how important it is to confront such children with other children that have an equal “way of living”. They suddenly find out that they are not the only ones in the world who are blind. They exchange experiences and since they are in a place where everyone is being treated equally, within days they grow into respected humans.
According to official statistics more than 10 thousand of the 2.5 million inhabitants of the T.A.R. are blind. Compared to most areas in the world this is well above the average ratio. Causes of visual impairment or blindness are both climatic and hygienic: dust, wind, high ultraviolet light radiation, soot in houses caused by heating with coal or yak dung, lack of vitamin A at an early age. Inadequate medical care has also played a role. Cataract is widespread. Red Cross and several private organisations set up eye-camps where cataract operations are being performed and local doctors are taught to do the procedure. However, there is a large group of blind people that can’t be helped this way. It was for this group of people the Project for the Blind, Tibet was founded.
In June 1998 the first school for the blind in the T.A.R. in China opened. This represented a small step in the project for the blind there. It was the beginning of a much bigger project which aims to give blind people a chance to participate in society.
In addition to the school for the blind, “the Project for the Blind, Tibet” plans to:
1. Start Braille schoolbook production – translating schoolbooks into the Tibetan Braille script.
2. Implement a re-integration program facilitating the return to local schools and home life.
3. Start vocational trainings to give the blind opportunity and skills to generate their own income.
Professional skill training will incorporate massage therapy, physiotherapy, animal husbandry, agriculture, knitting, candle making and the like which will help address their problems.
The goal is to start all four programs within four years and to hand over the project to local staff and the community that can give continuity to the work.
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Nepal Water For Health (NEWAH) is an organisation that works throughout rural Nepal providing clean drinking water, sanitation and health education. Established in 1992, it is the largest national NGO specialising in the rural water and sanitation sector in the country. It is non-political and non-profit making. NEWAH has a written constitution, is registered with the District Administration Office and is affiliated with the Social Welfare Council. It has an Executive Committee responsible for policy decisions.
NEWAH aims to improve the standard of living of poor people in Nepal by supporting community development initiatives.
All the people of Nepal have access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene education.
Achievements to Date
NEWAH has assisted 116 local NGOs and 89 Small Farmers’ Development Program (SFDP) offices, to complete:
2,429 community tap stands serving 151075 people with clean water:
3,837 tube-wells serving 295,490 people with clean water;
30 hand dug wells serving 8,000 people with clean water;
12,247 domestic latrines benefiting 97,976 people with safe sanitation facilities;
7 public latrines in semi-urban areas;
training for 15,029 NGO, SFDP , Women’s Credit Groups and community groups
(project management committee members) in hygiene education and maintenance..
The NEWAH Approach
NEWAH encourages the community to take a lead in planning, construction, operation and maintenance of new facilities by using participatory approaches. This aims to ensure the community is the owner of the facilities.
NEWAH forms partnerships with locally based NGOs, Small Farmer’s Groups, Women’s Credit Groups and community groups to implement projects.
NEWAH encourages the use of technologies, which the communities can afford and maintain by themselves, in both water and sanitation sector.
NEWAH integrates water, sanitation and hygiene education as an approach to community water service delivery.
Building the capacity of local NGOs and community groups to construct, manage, operate and maintain infrastructure projects is an integral part of NEWAH’s work.
“NEWAH believes that by working with communities in implementing water and sanitation projects the people will realise their potential for improving their lives, and so work towards other development orientated activities.”
Relation between NEWAH and Local NGOs
NEWAH implements all its projects through local partners (NGOs, Small Farmer’s Groups and Women’s Credit Groups) These partners are village-based and generally have very limited organisational, accounts, management and technical skills. Therefore, NEWAH provides training to these partners including community health volunteer training, project management community training and basic training for caretakers.
The community contribute to the projects through managing the workforce, planning activities, labour; site clearance; excavation work; collection of local materials such as stone, aggregate and sand; stone breaking and transportation of these materials to the site.
To increase poor people’s access to clean water and sanitation services;
to conduct research and development in the drinking water and sanitation sector so as to improve delivery mechanisms and document best practice;
to improve linkages with sector agencies;
to involve NGOs in water and sanitation activities at the policy level;
to include funding activities within NEWAH to reduce donor dependency;
to provide training opportunities for researchers and students, and
to expand development activities beyond water, health and sanitation.
Nepal Water For Health (NEWAH)
Phone 417603, 418248
Image taken on 2003-05-22 19:53:09 by changhg.
POPULATION: 21 million. Total population of the country doubled between 1961 and 1991. The population consists of 61 caste, subcast and ethnic and sub-ethnic groups who speak 40 major languages altogether. Nepal is a meeting place of two great civilizations Hinduism and Buddhism.
AREA: 147, 181 square km. Cultivable land comprises 20 percent of the total areas. Nepal is divided administratively into 5 development regions and 75 districts and 3995 Village Development Committees. There are 36 municipalities in the country. Ecologically it is divided in to three ecological regions, mountain, hill and terai. There are eleven world heritage sites in Nepal listed by UNESCO for their rich historical and natural values.
NATURAL RESOURCES AND ENVIRONMENT: The country is not rich in mineral resources but it has abundant surface and groundwater. Forest covers about 38 percent of the land area. The high pressure on agricultural land has led to considerable deforestation and soil loss. Unplanned urban settlement, receding forest cover, industrial establishment, the over-concentration of economic opportunities in urban areas are further aggravating environmental population. Pollutants from cooking with kerosene and industries such as the dye, brick kilns, cement factory, fuel-wood, diesel, etc continue to aggravate the air pollution problems.
HUMAN RESOURCES: Nepal is potentially rich in human resources. However, rapid population growth and sustained poverty at the household level are the two critical obstacles to the realization of this potential. The contribution of women to the national economy is not adequately reflected in the national statistics.
HEALTH AND NUTRITION: Average life expectancy within the last two decades has increased by 13.5 years. Nonetheless, average life expectancy is only 55 years (1994 figure). Women have a life span which is shorter by two years compared to men. Infant mortality rate is improving, but is still one of the highest in the region. Diarrhea, pneumonia and measles remain the main determinants of infant mortality. High incidence of undernutrition, early marriage and child bearing, poor housing conditions, inadequate access to safe drinking water, insufficient sanitary facilities and abuse of alcohol and tobacco contribute to the nation’s poor health standard.
LITERACY AND EDUCATION: The national literacy rate, which was 14 percent in 1971, increased to 40 percent by 1991. Enrollment of primary school children increased from 8,000 in 1960 to roughly 3 million in 1992. The adult literacy programme contributed to the literacy of 1,000,000 illiterate adults during 1992-97 only. However, the literacy rates among male and female populations remain grossly disproportionate ( 2:1).
ECONOMY: Agriculture contributes more than one-half of the household income, provides employment to 88 percent of the population. The intensity of poverty, which is correlated with illiteracy, malnutrition and other forms of deprivation, has hindered the overall pace of human development.
INCOME: Nepal with a per capita income of US $ 210 (equivalent to US $ 1,186 in terms of international purchasing power parity) belongs to the group of very low-income countries in the world. Economic growth averaged at 3.9 percent per year from the ’70s to the ’90s. Given the high population growth rate of 2.5 percent, per capita income grew by only 1.4 percent per annum during the last 25 years. The country’s gross domestic saving (GDS) is very low: on average it stood at about 10 percent of the GDP during the last decade.
DISTRIBUTION OF PRODUCTIVE ASSETS AND INCOME
Sixty-nine percent of the landholdings are less than 1 hectare in size; 88 percent are below 2 hectare.
The bottom 20 percent of the households receive only 3.7 percent of the national income while the top 10 percent claim a share of 50 percent.
Gender disparity in income distribution is acute as well due to the control of male household members over family income, absence of property rights for women.
POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT: Nepal as a state is now 230 years old. The 1990 constitution envisages a parliamentary democracy with constitutional monarchy. It guarantees the standard civil and political rights of the citizens. The directive principles and policies are intimately related to human development, protection of environment, participation of female population in national development, safeguarding the rights of children and protection and welfare of orphans, the aged and the disabled.
(Extracts adapted from Nepal Human Development Report 1998)
Image taken on 2009-03-21 16:47:39 by ` TheDreamSky 꿈꾸는 하늘.
No effective cure is known for the chronic arsenicism, which is the direct effect of contaminated drinking water, especially not in a poor country like Nepal. The only durable advice is to cease consuming the poisoned water immediately.
Contaminated drinking water
Water is the most essential element for all beings and plays a vital role for the entire life cycle on our mutual planet. Life needs water. Human beings need safe drinking water. Thus presence of unwanted contaminants in drinking water makes it unacceptable to drink for humans from both an aesthetic and a health aspect, and can have severe implications for all life forms. In order to be used as a healthful fluid for human consumption, water must be free from organisms that are capable of causing a number of diseases and from minerals and organic constituents that produces various, adverse physiological health effects. Hence we have in the later years witnessed a justified raising demand for safe drinking water in the World, and today this is by most organizations regarded as a Human Right.
Unfortunately water is a universal solvent, which can dissolve a variety of solids. None known solvent can dissolve the same number of different substances as water. Such dissolutions of myriad of solids cause the contamination of the water by various harmful contaminants. One of the substances that water can dissolve is chemical combinations of the element Arsenic.
Arsenic is considered as one of the oldest, most dangerous poisons, and is a well-defined contaminant, which has various acute and chronic health effects on the human health. Only 60 milligram of arsenic can kill an adult person instantly. Arsenic is a shiny metalloid, but dissolved in water or on gaseous form, humans cannot detect its presence before it is too late. We cannot see, taste nor smell, whether the water we drink is contaminated with Arsenic compounds. We can however feel it, since Arsenic compounds severely damages human health, and the sight of its effects is not pleasant.
Into the fire
Due to an assumed reduction of the microbiological contamination of the drinking water in developing countries, most stakeholders recommended and started to construct tube wells in rural areas to improve the microbiological contamination. On a worldwide scale these wells and hand pumps are constructed in a variety of ways and extract groundwater from aquifers in different depths. Similarly, private persons have the last two decades constructed millions of such tube wells. The improvement of the bacterial contamination have been shown to be questionable, since many tube wells in the third world are not constructed correctly, and furthermore the last ten years have shown, that some aquifers are chemically contaminated with for example Fluoride and Arsenic.
Especially in South East Asia – Bangladesh, West Bengal and now also the lowlands of Nepal, the Arsenic concentration in the pumped “drinking” water have shown to be of such a magnitude that the population in these areas, by switching from surface water to groundwater, can be said to have come from the frying-pan into the fire. Millions will in the future develop a slowly killing cancer in the internal organs due to unhealthy Arsenic concentrations.
Relative to the Arsenic crisis the microbiological contamination of drinking water can be said to be acute or instantly, whereas the effect of the former develops over periods up to thirty years and hence can be referred to as chronic. This fact can give some financial and awareness type of problems, since an effective mitigation of the Arsenic contamination will only be seen after several years.
Nepal overtakes Bangladesh
Lately measurements in the affected areas of Nepal have revealed concentrations almost double the highest measured in Bangladesh. Until now Bangladesh was the country which worldwide was believed to be the worst influenced. Furthermore initial measurements the last two years in Nepal have shown that the average percentage of the contaminated wells is rising with the number of wells measured. Today less than 5 percent of all wells in Nepal have been measured. Hence the actual number of arsenic contaminated tube wells in Nepal is still unknown.
A matter of mathematics
By mathematical calculations and predictions based on several factor like the Nepali migration towards the lowlands, the population increase, the risk analysis, and the rising number with access to groundwater. the Arsenic calamity can be shown in future to reach similar levels of death rates in Nepal as the microbiological contamination. The numbers can be turned if effective measuring programs combined with a throughout information campaign and a subsequent mitigation program is started immediately and “finished” within few years.
If such effective programs are not initiated at once, large numbers of the population will inevitability suffer, and since the mitigation effect is delayed up to thirty years, Nepal may reach a point, where the death rate curves, due to this problem, will be impossible or very difficult to bend.
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Next time we might consult an engineer…
Hari Parajuli is a member of the Community Radio Madanpokhara listener club in Pokhara Chowk VDC, ward no.9, Palpa district. Being 23 makes him the oldest member in the group that consists of 24 children between 8 and 23 years. Out of the many experiences being an active member of the listener’s group has given him, constructing a new road leading up the mountain to their village proved to be very challenging.
Over the years many frustrations had built up among the villagers in Pokhara Chowk VDC, ward no.8 and 9. The villagers badly needed something to replace the narrow trail connecting them to the main road between Pokhara and Tansen. Since the Village Development Committee (VDC) was not paying attention to the interests of ward no.8 and 9, the listener club decided to take action and start building a road themselves.
Making the road has been a long journey. After having conceived the idea the listener club decided to ask a neighboring community saving and credit group to construct the road jointly. A road construction committee of nine people was formed and the spades were pulled out from every household to do the digging. Fathers, mothers and children all contributed with four days of work during the two years of construction. Around 150 people were involved in the project which was all free of cost for the villagers – except for those people who were not able to participate. They were obliged to pay 105 rupees per day instead. The fees went to the VDC which eventually decided to help the local initiative by providing a bull dozer to do the hard work.
“We needed a road because it would make our life so much easier. All villagers now feel they can easily go to the market by taxi to sell vegetables and to do practical matters. It is a lot easier to transport maize seeds to either Pokhara or Tansen. If somebody is sick and need to go to the hospital it now only takes 10 minutes to walk to the car. Before it would take half an hour”, says Hari Parajuli.
To Hari Parajuli it was an immense effort for himself and the group to make the road. He feels his confidence has been boosted during the past two years. Before he could not speak up in public, but now he is often the one chosen to give welcome speech when the listener club has cultural and social gatherings in the community. Saying it with a smile on his face, Hari admits that he and the group also have learned to take advice.
“Actually we must say that the road is not really good. We should have taken some technical advice on how to construct a road before we started digging. But what were we to do? We had no money for that! Anyway, the District Development Committee has offered their help so that an engineer can examine the road.”
So what exactly was Community Radio Madan Pokhara’s role in all this?
Hari Parajuli answers – “The DDC started knowing about our project after hearing a radio programme broadcasting our story and being in the listener club I feel I am a member of Community Radio Madan Pokhara.”
What about the future challenges for the group? To outline these does not take Hari Parajuli long. A paper is quickly revealed from his pocket listing 13 new goals for the club: “1. Develop tourist area, 2. Green road concept (plant trees along the road), 3. Collect plastic…” Giving advice from the listeners to CRM is also included as well as conducting a 12- hour cultural programme that is also to be broadcasted.”
“CRM is experimenting with public hearings on certain issues. We would also like to contribute to the development of this program,” says Hari Parajuli.
Image taken on 2009-08-16 10:05:46 by ` TheDreamSky 꿈꾸는 하늘.