In a house behind the Peace Hotel in Lhasa live 17 blind Tibetan children. Every morning, they have a class in typing, and after class, they play football and other games led by their teachers. Playtime is their happiest hour, and their laughter resounds in the courtyard.
The blind children are beneficiaries of the Program for Tibetan Blind Children, which helps the children learn Tibetan Braille. The program was initiated by Sabriye Tenberken, a 29-year-old German woman and is supported by the German government.
Sabriye has been blind from birth, but she worked hard with indomitable will and was finally enrolled in the Department of Middle-Asian Studies at Bonn University, with her specialty in Tibetan Studies. In 1992 and 1993, she combined the six-dot Braille system with the Tibetan language and invented a Tibetan Braille. Now, for the first time, blind persons of the Tibetan ethnic group can read.
In May 1997, Sabriye arrived on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. With the help of the Tibetan Disabled Persons’ Federation, she conducted a survey and found that there were more than 300 blind or semi-blind children in certain areas and that the medical and educational conditions for blind children were poor in the undeveloped pastoral areas.
Thus, she decided to establish a training center for the blind. Her plan obtained the support of the German government when she went back home in August 1997. In May 1998, Sabriye and Paul, an engineer from Holland, came together in Lhasa to carry out the plan.
In the beginning, the Training Center for Blind Persons enrolled six blind Tibetan children aged six to 12. With the help of international charity organizations and charity-loving persons, the center moved to the present site in January 1999, and the number of students increased to 17. There, the children learn Braille, Tibetan, Chinese and English.
The center aims to impart knowledge and a healthy mental state to disabled children, and in the future, it will provide vocational training, such as massage, farming, and animal husbandry. During every vacation, the center sends the students back to their homes and informs their parents about their studying and living. When a new semester starts, the center transports the students back to Lhasa.
Sabriye has hopes for the future. She plans to establish a school and a rehabilitation center for blind persons, and she hopes that more blind Tibetan children will live happy lives.
(China Pictorial 05/23/2001)