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The Institute for the Visually Impaired of Beira was the first education center adapted for blind children in Mozambique. An initiative at the forefront of social and educational integration in Africa that has not managed to set a precedent.
Half a century after its inauguration in 1969 it is still the only one in the whole country and it remains open thanks to donations because the support of public institutions do not cover its maintenance costs. Currently, the institute has little more than a hundred students despite the available data estimates a number that may reach 200,000 cases of children with vision problems in Mozambique.
Most of the visual disabilities of the students in the Institute are directly related to the scarcity of resources and lack of sanitary services in the country. Mozambique has one of the lowest incomes in the world, its human development index is among the ten lowest in the United Nations reports. In health, there is no national ophthalmology plan, let alone ophthalmology for children.
In particular the lack of vitamin A caused by malnutrition and measles are the main causes of childhood blindness in Mozambique and in the rest of the developing countries. But it is also important to state the aggravating role of the lack of prevention. The general ignorance that society has about visual diseases contributes to increase the number of affected, as was the case of Antonio. His relatives applied some plants to relieve an apparent conjunctivitis and later on went to be treated by the local healer. Since the inflammation did not improve, they ended up visiting the doctor in the hospital, but it was too late to reverse the damage that traditional medicines had caused.
In addition, many families do not know how to deal with this reality from a social point of view. Traditionally it was common to hide blind children simply out of shame. It is now when society is beginning to move towards the inclusion of the visually impaired. Although there is still a long way to go. According to Batista, one of the senior students of the institute, many visually impaired still live situations of social exclusion. It is for this reason that he has decided to take action. “I am taking the first steps to create a help association for those blind people who are having really difficult times. Now I am helping a woman who was prostituting herself to support her children. There is no work here for many people prepared, there is even less for the blind. I get some money from street vending when I leave the Institute in the evenings and also on weekends. For now, I can only help her with the money I earn, which is not much.”
At the Institute for the Visually Impaired of Beira, students get ready to face life with their disability. Not only do they learn the usual school subjects, but they also receive lessons to be able to look after themselves on a daily basis, such as the technique to handle the cane and go out safely.
Many of them also learn about coexistence and housework. Approximately half of the students registered are from out of town and are enrolled as boarders in the Institute throughout the course. Some are from other provinces, like Inés. Her parents live 900 km from Beira, but when they learned of the existence of this Institute, they decided to enroll her as a boarder so that she would have the opportunity to study and have better future prospects. Now she shares with the newcomers everything she has learned over these years since her arrival at the center. The transmission of knowledge between generations of students is fundamental for their learning.
Moreover, braille literacy is also essential for these children if they want to continue their studies and work in the future. For this reason, the school takes this matter very seriously with first-year students. The lack of available resources has been compensated with a good dose of imagination: empty egg box (half a dozen) and some soda caps. This is how students learn braille alphabet positions, while technology is making its way into the educational program. The donation of a few computers has made it possible to set up a computer classroom in the Institute, where upper-level students are learning to surf the web using a voice assistance program. The arrival of the Internet has meant access to an endless source of content that was previously out of their reach.
The information age is opening a new path towards the integration of the visually impaired. Perhaps it is now, when thanks to the democratization of knowledge, it will be possible to take a real step forward to reach one of the great challenges of the developing countries: to make inclusive education stop being an exception.