23 March 2012

Gambia: 'Sending Me to School Restored My Confidence,' Says Visually Impaired


Abdou Jallow,a teacher with visual impairment talks about his ordeal when he lost his vision. As a 17 year-old, Jallow who is known in the music industry as Junior Pierces explains how he was able to put his life back on track.

Foroyaa: Apparently, you were not born blind; how did you feel when you lost your sight?

Jallow: Well, i lost my sight in the year 2000 through an accident when i was 17 years of age. After the accident i felt so bad thinking my world had taken an irreversible turn for the worse. Happily, it was not the end of the world for me.

Foroyaa: For how long did you harbour that feeling that your world had turn upside down?

Jallow: It took one year before i could erase that feeling that i had lost it all. Having spent two months at the Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital while recovering, my mother eventually sent me the then School for the Blind in Banjul where i enrolled in 2001.

Foroyaa: What convinced you that you had not lost it all, thereby believing that there was light at the end of the tunnel?

Jallow: Sending me back to school helped me regained confidence that despite my blindness, i could still be successful in whatever i want to pursue.

Foroyaa: How was it like for you to be in the School for the Blind, having been in a sighted school previously?

Jallow: For the first time it was very sad. I struggled to come to terms with the reality that i was in the School for the Blind, having been in the normal school previously. Memories of sighted school continued to haunt me while i was in the school for the visually impaired.

Foroyaa: What were some of those memories that haunted you while you newly enrolled in the School for the Blind?

Jallow: When i was at the sighted school, i was stubborn. In addition, I used to be a good footballer. In fact i lost my vision while playing the beautiful game. I was not playing football when i lost my sight because you need sight to play football.

Foroyaa: You could not play football with the sighted, but of course, the visually impaired have their version of football called Gold ball. Were you playing that?

Jallow: I was engaged in playing the blind equivalence of football but i was restricted to play that game within the School for the Blind. This was due to the reason that Gold ball was limited to the School for the Blind. Unlike when i had my vision i was playing the game wherever i felt like doing so.

Foroyaa: What were some of the challenges that stood in your way while acquiring education?

Jallow:As a visually impaired student travelling from Sinchu Baliya to Banjul on a daily basis was tough. I attended Garba Jahumpa Upper Basic School and i had to depend on my struggling mother to have fares to attend school in Banjul. I must say if it had not been for her dedication i would not have achieved what i have achieved. She single handedly stood by me when i needed her most. Another challenge was how to read and write Braille when i lost my vision. It was pretty difficult because i was so dependent on my sight to read and write. It took me almost one year to learn to write and read Braille.

Foroyaa: Did you feel sad when you put your fingers on a Braille page attempting to read, then reflected on those days when you were reading with your eyes?

Jallow: Well, that feeling of sadness touched me when i thought of the past when my vision was on. At Garba Jahumpa where i shared a class with another visually impaired student, i felt so bad when i thought of almost everybody in the class reading with sight; while two of us had to use our fingers to read.This awareness brought frustration and sadness to me. I had this feeling that they are reading with sights as i used to do.

Foroyaa: As a visually impaired, what challenges did you face in the classroom in relation to taking notes?

Jallow: Taking notes in a classroom when you cannot see the blackboard is difficult. We were given tape recorders to help us get notes. However, even with recorders it is not easy at all considering that the class rooms are often over crowded with students who make a lot of noise.

Foroyaa: Did you sometimes have to depend on your sighted colleagues to help you get certain things in the class?

Jallow: No, i depended on no one; I understood that the sighted students were also busy. So they could not do their work and help somebody else at the same time, It was out of this recognition that i decided to be independent. I knew that i was able to do what the sighted students were doing.

Foroyaa: How did you cope with your transformation from a upper basic school student to a senior secondary school student?

Jallow:After my completion of Garba Jahumpa Upper Basic School proceeded to Charles Fowlis Senior Secondary School. One notable difference between my days as a upper basic school student and a senior secondary school student was that my new school was closer to my home. Instead of going to Banjul had to go to Jeshwang where Charles Fowlis Senior Secondary School is located.

Foroyaa: How was it like to be in a class where most of your colleagues were sighted, unlike you?

Jallow: It was such a nice experience to be in the midst of sighted students. It was also a challenge that i as a visually impaired person had to do what the sighted students were doing.

Foroyaa: Have you been ever told by a teacher to stop your Braille machine in a class room, because it was making noise?

Jallow: Mostly it is new teachers who make such complains. They have no idea whatsoever about handling students with visual impairment. But with orientation, they understand and appreciate students with visual impairment.

Foroyaa: Can you cite any incident where a teacher suddenly told you to stop your Braille machine?

Jallow: I and another visually impaired student while in grade 10 were told to stop our Braille machine by a teacher. He gave this instruction when he was giving an explanation while we were taking note.

Foroyaa: How was your interaction like with sighted students at both junior and senior secondary schools?

Jallow: After i realised that my visual impairment did not mean the end of the world for me,i was so opened to everyone. As a result i ended up having excellent relationships with almost every one. This was borne out of my ambition that i want to do something that is related to the people which is music. Eventually, i have friends who would go to the extent of buying bread for me out of kindness.

Foroyaa: Was there any incident that someone displayed hostility to you simply because of your visual impairment?

Jallow: Yes, some did because we were in a school consisting of students from different backgrounds. Some of them did not know anything about visual impairment. There were some instances when it was attempted to discriminate us, the visually impaired. But we refused to be discriminated because our experience from the past had put us in a firmer footing that we can withstand any form of challenge. Later on, some of those who attempted to sideline us became our best friends. They understood us.

Foroyaa: Was it out of your refusal to be discriminated that made them to understand you?

Jallow: My determination to do well in class and insistence that despite my visual impairment i can thrive made them to understand that i should not be discriminated, but i also deserve respect. Imagine i was getting grades that some sighted students could only dream of. I was able to change their mind set that even if one loses one's organ, he/she can make the best use of his/her other senses that are not impaired. I have often argued that my sense of seeing is not functional, but my other senses are in good shape.

Foroyaa: As you wrote your last paper completing senior secondary school; what was going through your mind?

Jallow: I was wondering what life after high school holds for me. I was thinking where i would get a job. Even as a student graduating from high school, i had so many responsibilities on my head. This was so because i was the eldest son of my mother. Therefore i felt obliged to do something to help my struggling mother. After an intense search for a job i decided to apply for enrolment at Gambia College. It was tough being in the college.

Foroyaa: What was so tough about being at the college?

Jallow: Well, some of my family members did not see the need for me to be at the college. They thought instead i should have gone out to look for a job which was difficult. In this country, it is extremely difficult for persons with visual impairment to get a job. The general thinking is that persons with visual impairment should be on the streets begging.

Foroyaa: Before going to the college, have you applied for any job anywhere?

Jallow:I had applied for a job at various departments. Sadly, when i visited some of those departments, they gave me few coins, instead of considering me as a capable job seeker. It was out of such wrong perceptions that led me to the college.

Foroyaa: Was it difficult to get enrolment at the college as a visually impaired person?

Jallow: It was not difficult at all to enrol at the college. Before me, students with visual impairment studied there. This made my enrolment and that of so many others quite easy. It is worth saying that the college has a tradition of educating persons with visual impairment. On behalf of my colleagues, i must thank the authorities of Gambia College for embracing students with visual impairment.

Foroyaa: How will you describe your college days?

Jallow: Well, they were tough as i depended on stipends to meet my daily financial needs. Considering that i had to travel from Sinchu Baliya to Brikama throughout the week. This was tough. Sometimes i would not take breakfast because i could not afford to do so in the face of other necessities.

Foroyaa: What did you study at the college?

Jallow: I did Primary Teachers' Certificate which takes two years. Having been at the college campus for one year, am now doing the practical aspect at the school of the blind in Kanifing.

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