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West Africa’s Blind Conserves Forests with Braille

December 31, 2012

Blind men and women are helping in the conservation of the forests, investigations have revealed.

The blind and visually impaired persons through the kind of educational and instructional materials they use have been able to conserve forests much more than those who can see through the recycling of papers which are made from trees. This was not the original intention of Louis Braille when he designed this method of writing for the blind in France over 100 years ago.

Investigations, however, showed that the blind in Nigeria and other West African countries through their own specially made textbooks and mode of education can save 40 pieces a paper from one tree which could produce textbooks  at the rate of 50,000 for people with eyesight. By conserving the forests, the blind, experts said have also been assisting the world in the release of oxygen which human beings and other living things need from trees.

Experts said that if more papers used by the sighted are reused by the blind the world would also be helping in their own small way in tackling the problem of greenhouse gas emissions.

For example, an acre of trees which blind conserve through the use of old papers used by people with sight will produce enough oxygen for 18 people.

Conservationists and forest experts are worried that in Africa, out of 28 trees that are cut, only one is planted back.

The African Union have equally been worried about how to safe African trees and they have initiated what is known as the Great Green Wall to plant trees from Senegal across Sahara Desert to Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti.

Meanwhile, about the time that the Nigerian government through Mr. Taiye Haruna, the Permanent Secretary Federal Ministry of Environment, Abuja inaugurated the Technical Committee on Great Green Wall, experts said that blind people are possibly conserving forests in their own way, more than those who can see. The blind’s textbooks are done with Braille on papers already used by people with eye-sight.

In Lagos Ghana and other West African countries, the blind’s textbooks are being made with old papers used by the sighted which are four times more than the numbers required to publish a textbook for the sighted. This means that each textbook of a blind person has sheets which are four times more than that of a copy of book belonging to a sighted person.

The brains behind the conservation of forests by virtually impaired people were septuagenarians from European and Latin American countries married to Nigerians.

These women have lived in Nigeria for over 50 years and have decided to give back to their adopted country by making provision of educational materials and textbooks to the blind which ironically have become another forest conservation strategy.

The trees which would have been felled in parts of Africa, Finland, France, Poland, UK and United States to make papers and textbooks for blind community in Africa are conserved.

The textbooks which the blind are using through the efforts of these Septuagenarians have made thousands of them to pass very well at West Africa School Certificate Examination (WAEC) as well  as having degrees from many institutions in West Africa and overseas.

Mrs. Jean E. Obi, coordinator of Nigerwives Braille Book Production Centre said that the centre has been able to assist the blind and virtually impaired through the production of primary school, secondary school and tertiary school textbooks in the past decades.

Mrs Obi a former Mathematics Teacher has used her knowledge to assist the blind who in the past had difficulty in learning Mathematics to have easy access to Mathematics and by extension conserving forest woods that would have ended as pulp and paper.

For her efforts in helping the blind in Nigeria and other parts of the world, Queen Elizabeth II of England gave Mrs. Obi an MBE award while the government of Nigeria who in the first instance did not recognize her as a Nigerian having been married to a Nigerian ironically gave her a National Honour known as MFR (Member of the Federal Republic).

Mrs. Megan R. Olusanya, Administrator of the Nigerwives Braille Book production Centre who originally hailed from Jamaica said that the centre is committed to reduce the pain of learning which the blind used to go through.

Mrs. Olusanya, wife of Nigeria’s former Ambassador to France Professor Gabriel Olusanya said that the  centre went through pains to collect used papers from the sighted  which are very useful to the blind.

The papers used by the sighted are recycled in the publication process of the blind.

To be able to publish books for the blind, the centre usually solicited and combed several places where sighted people used old calendars, papers, boards etc and later turn them into readable textbooks for the blind. This reporter was taken through the blind’s textbook production process which was carried out by a work force of ten people.

Five of the workers are blind and they live at Ikorodu town and work in Victoria Island which is 25 kilometres away.

At Victoria Island, they have turned books like J.K Rowling’s’ Harry Porter and numerous textbooks in English Mathematics, Geography, History etc into readable Braille texts for the blind.

These books feed blind schools in Agbowa- Ikosi, Lagos, Ibadan Kaduna, Abuja through collaboration with other branches of Nigeriwives in those cities. The Patron of the Nigeriwives Braille Book production Centre is Professor V.C Ike while the National President is Dr. Rosebud Nwafor. They also have collaboration with other countries in Sub Saharan Africa.

Three blind schools in Kaduna State and other places in the Nigeria have been able to make impacts in Mathematics where, according to Mrs. Jean Obi, a former Mathematics Teacher ‘used to be difficult for the blind because of diagrams, calculations and how the blind can do rough work before calculation.”

Mrs. Obi, a member of International Council on English Braille said the centre had to device ways of handling calculation for the blind through many workshops it carried out.

They have done works hops in Braille took production in Ghana,  Liberia Sierra Leone all member nations of West Africa Examination Council (WAEC) which prepares all secondary students for examination that takes them to tertiary institutions all over the world.

Investigation revealed that 300 textbooks have been made to Braille by the Centre.

How did the Nigerwives Association and the Braille Centre start?

The Association started in 1979 when foreign women married to Nigerians were treated as aliens and birds of passage. The women felt unhappy that they were not treated as parts and parcel of their husbands. They wanted their voices heard.

In those days, the Federal Government of Nigeria did not give the women full time jobs, pensions and other benefits in the civil service or any government institution. Though their husbands were Nigerians their wives were treated as expatriates and after many years in the civil service they were retired without benefits.

Many of the women were teachers in secondary schools such as Kings College, St. Gregory, Queens College, Lagos Boy’s High School where the government created equal opportunity for students with special needs like the blind. They saw how the blind went through hard times to learn.

Mrs. Obi thus went to learn Braille when she was in mid 40s. The women got together and informed late Alhaji Bayero, former Managing Director of Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) about the Braille project and how to begin to publish books for the blind. At first, the government asked them to “mind their business” but the women forged ahead and through Alhaji Bayero, got the Spanish Society for the Blind to be interested in their project. Some oil companies gave them “Portakabin” containers which they have been using as offices till date. The Kings College gave them premises, while another company gave them computers.

Today, the Braille Centre, has been able to influence the government to present the blind with question papers on Braille during examinations. This was not done before.

“If you had your questions read out to you during examinations, you would not have passed “said Mrs. Obi while convincing sighted educational officers at the Ministry of Education to provide question in Braille for the blind. She knew how rigorous this could be for the blind because she also worked at the West African Examination Council (WAEC) in the 1970s. The Irish sisters who were the pillars behind the Pacelli School for the Blind and Partially Sighted had equally expressed their fear for the blind when they were about leaving Nigeria in the 1980s. Mrs. Obi and other members of Nigerwives took up the gauntlet and this has alleviated the suffering of the blind. These efforts have also conserved the forest from a part of the population who depends on the used paper from the sighted.


A Shuttle and Hope in the Blind’s Alley

By Tunde AkingbadeImage

Mrs. Megan Olusanya, Administrator of Nigerwives Braille Book Production Centre took me through the production processes of text books made from Braille. We arrived at an office adorned with computers and Mrs. Olusanya announced my presence to Mr. Tunde Mohammed, Head of the computer centre. Mohammed who was not sighted was excited about my visit. Before my arrival, he had been working on his specially made computer which other usually impaired use. He was browsing on the internet. Firstly, 43 years old Mohammed took me through the shuttle of visually impaired on use of computer and communication on the social media like sighted people.

“The blind’s computer does not use a mouse,” Mohammed volunteered.

There is special software known as JOS which enables the blind to have access to speech on the computer. With the use of the computer that has speech software, the computer talks to the blind and he uses his keyboard to respond, without a mouse.

“You are on Microsoft 2007,” the computer voice told Mohammed and he worked on.

He had attended a special school for the blind where from primary 3 they were taught how to type on the typewriter. “When I was in the University, I depended on friends lecturers to read my scripts,” Mohammed said. Within few seconds of my arrival Mohammed had typed on his computer and when the computer’s speech software was used to read what he had typed it was; Hello Tunde, nice having you here!”

The blind do not print out messages on papers from the computer.

Mohammed chatted on Facebook, Yahoo and Google talk.

“This helps us to live a normal life,” he said.

From Mohammed’s department, we went to the real production of books. There were four men in their mid-20. They handle the Braille’s press where old papers used by sighted are printed on, in Braille for the use of the visually impaired.

One of them was recently trained in Sweden. One of the most interesting aspects during the visit was my meeting with Mrs. Mercy Williams, a poet and mother of two. Mrs. Williams’ first child is aged two years old while the second child, who is few months old was strapped to her back. The beautiful baby played on her mother’s back as she proof-read and edited a text book entitled; “The precious child.”

The book is a play. Mrs. Mohammed read out Act 4 Scene One of the play with her fingers.

Mr. Israel another Officer in this department also read out his work to me. Miss Deola works at the binding section. There are other sighted people too who assist in the production. As I was leaving the Nigerwives Braille Book Production Centre, I was asked to let the world know that this centre which caters for the blind needs more used papers to be able to meet the needs of blind. Many blind men and women have been trained at this centre on computer skills. They are working in various places including multinational companies and excelling like other sighted colleagues.


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