Retiree helps visually impaired broaden their horizons

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A retired doctor in Chongqing is helping visually impaired friends "see" the world by volunteering as a travel guide.

Cai Meiqi (front) guides her visually impaired friends to visit a scenic area on the outskirts of Chongqing. Photo Provided To China Daily

Cai Meiqi, 66, who was born partially blind and has very weak vision in her left eye, has led tours around China and to neighboring countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Japan in the past decade.

Thanks to such adventures, she has helped the sightless experience things for the first time in their lives, such as taking a plane journey, walking on sandy beaches, running through grassy fields and standing atop mountains.

Cai started her post-retirement career in 2007 after meeting several visually impaired individuals during a massage training program. She showed her managerial abilities during class activities and gained the trust of the students.

"They asked me to lead them to explore the outside world. They said that their lives are not just about survival," said Cai, who practiced traditional Chinese medicine.

China has the largest population of visually impaired people in the world, an estimated 8 million, according to the World Health Organization.

Touched by the courage and passion of others, she began to contact travel agencies. But none of them would make special accommodations for visually impaired clients at that time. She decided to organize trips herself.

"Let me be your eyes, and follow me to 'see' the world," she told them.

Their first trip was a day tour for about 40 people to the botanical garden at Chongqing's Nanshan Mountain. Cai guided them around the garden, told them what she saw and let them touch and smell cherry blossoms and other flowers.

"I was so afraid they would get lost or hurt," she said. "But I found they really cherished the chance to travel and they were so disciplined."

To ensure the safety and smooth operation of the tours, Cai has made some rules: a partially blind person must pair with a completely blind one, and no one should be left alone under any circumstances.

When traveling outside Chongqing, she takes only about 10 people with her to ensure she can look after them properly.

She usually brings two whistles to send signals to her teammates during the trips. At some crowded scenic spots, if other guides use one type of whistle, Cai will use another to differentiate her sound.

To save on costs, Cai spends a great deal of time searching for cheap transportation, accommodations and dining options.

It took her about three years to prepare for a trip to Xiamen, a coastal city in Fujian province. In March 2015, she finally made the trip with 13 team members.

"When I touched the trees, felt the ancient streets under my feet, heard the ocean waves, felt the wind from the mountains and heard birds singing in the forest, I seemed to really 'see' nature's beauty," said Zhang Hong, who has participated in many tours organized by Cai.

They like to ask others to take photos for them so that they can show them to their family and friends.

Cai's special travel group has attracted much attention from the public and often receives generous help from warmhearted tourists, train and flight attendants, as well as restaurant and hotel management. In recent years, a local travel agency welcomed them to join its tours at home and abroad.

"We have received so much help from others," she said. "We want to give back to society as well."

Cai has set up a volunteer team with her visually impaired friends called Light of Love. During their trips and when they have spare time, they often provide free massage services and mini concerts.

"Some of my team members are very talented musicians. Some can write songs and others have very good singing voices," she said.

For Cai and her teammates, travel has a special meaning.

"We derive confidence and dignity from our journeys," she said.

"When we come back, we can carry on with more courage."

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