World Braille Day is celebrated annually on January 4. This Day is observed to raise awareness of the importance of Braille as a means of communication in the full realization of the human rights for blind and partially sighted people.
On this Day, let’s meet Djemba, a student in Yaoundé, Cameroon, who studies using Braille.
Promoting integration of children with disabilities into society
At 7:15 am Promhandicam, a school in Yaoundé, Cameroon’s nation capital, comes alive as the first set of pupils arrive. By 7:30 it is busier as more pupils teem into the campus, some running, shouting and playing with their friends as they make their way running across the school yard to their various classes. Three boys stroll in holding hands and sharing jokes.
Djemba, the boy in the middle is visually impaired. The other two are his close friends and neighbors. They walk with Djemba to and from school every day. They hold his hands and guide him, especially when crossing the streets. They escort Djemba to his class and then rush to their class.
Just like Djemba and his friends, in Promhandicam, it is very common to see children with disabilities studying and playing with their peers who do not have special needs.
Mr Abolo Jean Marie, the school’s head teacher, says: “Promhandicam aims to support social integration, having inclusive classes where children with disabilities learn and play alongside those with no disabilities.”
The school opened in 1975. Abolo says: “The current enrolment stands at 328 pupils. Of the 328, 149 are children with disabilities. The Primary school has 51 pupils with disabilities and the special center has 98 children with disabilities. Of these, many are blind, but there are others who have paralysis or learning disabilities, or no limbs.”
Promhandicam aims to help children with disabilities integrate and participate fully in society. When they receive the same opportunities to develop, children with disabilities are able to contribute to the social, cultural and economic development of their country.
Abolo says: “In Yaoundé and around Cameroon there are very few schools that can satisfactorily accommodate children with visual and hearing impairments, or with significant learning disabilities. In Promhandicam, we have students who come to study here from different regions in Cameroon.”
Finding a suitable school for Djemba, who lives in Yaoundé, was not easy. Djemba’s father Salla says: “I learnt about Promhandicam from a friend. Earlier Djemba was in a public school where the teachers had written him off as a lazy pupil. Djemba was unable to copy notes in class or do his assignments well. I talked to a friend about this challenge, and he referred me to Promhandicam.”
Salla says: “When I came here, I was advised to teach him braille. He started copying notes in class and liking school. He does his assignments. I am impressed with the progress.”
Djemba says: “I like my new school. Even if my dad transfers to another town I would like to stay here. I did not like the former school because the teachers forced me to copy notes from the board and I could not see the board. Also writing with the pen was more stressful than writing with braille is.”
SaIla acknowledges: “It is God’s intervention that brought me to Promhandicam. My son has a shot at a better future thanks to the education he is now receiving. If I did not bring him here, it’s hard to think about what he would have become in schools that did not understand or accommodate his special needs. Here they have brought out a part of Djemba that is beautiful and they help me see that Djemba is not alone.”
Abolo says such testimonies from parents and former students are countless. Promhandicam’s model of education creates opportunities for kids who would otherwise be excluded out of mainstream school systems. Abolo says this success is thanks to their sponsors like CBM who make it possible for them to run and sustain their innovative and inclusive programs.
Abolo states: “CBM support to Promhandicam is enormous. CBM supports the school through the payment of teachers’ salaries, construction of classrooms, trainings for the staff and provision of white canes and didactic materials like braille paper. Without the support of CBM, we could not have been able to achieve this.”