India: Scene 10 — Braille.

14 11 2011

Mostly about Braille

We used to talk about this once and a while: if you could lose one of your senses, which one would you be willing to lose and why? I think the one I struggled with the most was blindness. To lose my sight, to not be able to take in the beauty of God’s creation, to not be able to see my family and friends, to live in a dark world; I couldn’t imagine it. And beyond that, the tremendous challenges of being blind in a world full of obstacles; how frustrating that would be.

I am not saying that Canada is doing a fantastic job at helping the blind (I don’t really know), but just looking around at our system of sidewalks and cross-walks and somewhat orderly traffic system, it has to be better than India. In India, approximately 14 million people are blind and I can’t imagine what that is like in that mayhem of traffic, with people pressing in on you from seven different directions, illogical, uneven sidewalks and roads all in a tangle.

I am going to jump ahead here because at some point Alecia is going to be writing some articles on this topic. She had the chance to visit with people who deal with blindness in India, so I will link to her articles when she is done. So fast-forward to the topic of Braille.

Braille looks like a bumpy page of code; my fingertips can’t make any sense of it, but to someone who is blind in India, it is the difference between being connected and being isolated; being useful or viewed as useless. The “electronic age” we live in, is impractical in their day-to-day life, but Braille opens up their world!

  • Braille is the only way they can read, and reading opens doors.
  • Braille gives them independence; they don’t need anyone to help them with it once they know how to read and they begin to learn and grow, taking in ideas and sharing their own.
  • Once they can read, and if they have access to materials in Braille, it makes integration with the sighted world possible.
  • It allows them to have better job opportunities.
  • It opens up the possibility of an education.
  • I.T. equipment that is “Braille friendly” allows blind people to surf the web!
  • It provides enjoyment for blind people as they enjoy reading as much as anyone else
  • It allows them to participate in group settings (like school, church, small groups for example) and even lead house churches.

In many countries, including India, learning Braille and then finding material to read is very challenging. Braille can be mailed anywhere in the world (right now) for free, but teaching it, translating it, and then getting materials into people’s hands can all present serious obstacles.

There are also challenges in trying to convince many parents that it is worth educating their blind child. There are parents who would just view their blind child as a huge inconvenience and not worth the investment to get them to and from a school. There is the issue of karma, where if a person is born blind, there must be a reason for it (I recall a Bible verse also where people thought the blind person had committed some sort of sin, or perhaps their parents had). Sometimes educators need to visit a home over and over to convince parents just to let them try to educate their child for a short time so that they can see for themselves what great improvements could be made in their child’s life.

Alecia and I spent a wonderful afternoon with a couple near London who lead an organization called (I removed the name of the organization for now) and their mission is to produce Braille Bibles and Christian materials to distribute them among people in needy areas. Just to give you some perspective, this organization is one of the only organizations in the world doing this kind of work (there are a few doing some limited work), and definitely the only organization that translates to so many different languages.

They print the Bible in Braille (the entire Bible stands around 2 meters long) as well as children’s Bible-story books, and healthcare awareness booklets. They are passionately committed to this ministry of putting the “Good News at their fingertips” which they now print in about 42 languages for distribution to 120 destinations in Asia, Africa and Europe.

What a great afternoon!  We talked about their own journey to becoming involved in this calling and about the challenges the blind face, and the way that their Braille Bibles are treasured. Reading material for the blind in India is so scarce, that even if you were Hindu by religion, you would be grateful to receive a Bible, just to have something to read!

Most people don’t ever get the chance to read the entire Bible; they might own one book of the Bible (I had to think, what if you only had Ecclesiastes? Or Lamentations?) This organization is setting up mini lending libraries in India so that people who might not own a book or a book of the Bible can come and borrow one, return it and take another.

They also have helped a group in India to set up their own Braille “printing press” so that they can write their own booklets in response to the issues people are facing in their communities from a Christian perspective:

  • Overcoming temptations
  • Overcoming fear
  • Growing relationships
  • Making right choices
  • Self-acceptance
  • Assurance of salvation
  • Spiritual growth
  • How to lead a Bible Study group
  • How to lead intercessory prayer groups.

They have also printed song books, and Bible notes, and Bible correspondence courses in seven Indian languages.

One of the goals of this organization is to at least get the book of Luke in as many hands as possible so that people who are blind can get a good look at who Jesus was and is. I am not sure what that one book would cost but the New Testament costs around 80 GBP which is approximately $130.00

I came away from that meeting with so much to think about. There are all the issues of being blind in India and beyond that, being blind and trying to understand who Jesus is and the promises God has for those who love Him. How many Bibles do I have in my home right now? How for granted I take it, that I can read any book of the Bible I want at any time? It is so simple for me to read and reflect on God’s Words and I literally can take it or leave it. But if you are blind, and if you are blind in India, it is literally a treasure.

As I looked at the pictures of people receiving ONE BOOK of the Bible in Braille and the beautiful smiles on their faces I again felt that mixture of embarrassment and awe: embarrassment at how casual I am about so many things, knowing that to whom much is given, much is required; and awe at seeing how they immediately would open the cover and begin to read, and that look of pure joy as they began to take in those life-giving, life-changing words.

This organization is now in its 21st year. Its warehouse is nothing fancy. It occupies a fairly small space with a few paid employees, a big machine that prints off thick sheets of Braille,  and a host of volunteers who sort and bind the Bibles and books and then ship them off to their contacts in different countries. They are mostly supported by the United Bible Society and a few U.K. churches, but, as with most churches and organizations trying to obey the call God has given them, the money is always tight.

I leave this with you. If you love God’s Word and have a desire to see Bible’s find their way into the hands of “the least of these” maybe this is something you will want to look into further (they are a registered charity).

 

(I have removed contact information at this time due to the political climate in India)

— Teresa Klassen

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