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This article was published 8/6/2011 (3088 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Three Winnipeg women have a clear vision of what it takes to help build a better community.
Two of them — Christy Horan and Laura Layton — are both orientation and mobility specialists with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. They recently returned from a three-week trip to Nepal, where they volunteered at a newly-opened school for blind and partially sighted students.
Armed with more than 150 pounds of luggage — which included braille printers, paper, training manuals, white canes and clothing — the pair arrived in the small community outside Kathmandu not knowing exactly what to expect.
"The environment in Nepal is very interesting," reflected Layton, who lives in Wolseley. "The kids there are walking around with chickens, goats and donkeys. It’s so different to our day-to-day routine in Winnipeg.
"It makes you realize that we have so much here. The only way the kids will do well over in Nepal is with an education."
Horan, who lives in downtown Winnipeg, says that one of the highlights of her trip was taking regular long walks with the children — who "always seemed to have their next destination mapped out" — which sometimes took up to three hours at a time. "That’s partly because it’s a very different experience taking a bus in Nepal."
The pair said that before the school opened, the Nepalese people believed that blind children were incapable of learning. Since the school opened, students are provided housing, food and clothing in a residence near the school and are integrated into classrooms.
The students were also given their first white walking canes, which were donated by Winnipeg-based company AmbuTech.
"We saw the kids developing really well. They were very smart, very capable at learning and orientation.
They really only needed the white cane to be mobile," Layton said.
CNIB first became involved with the initiative when University of Manitoba professor Kelley Beaverford approached the organization’s Winnipeg office for advice about blind-friendly aspects of design for the new school.
"I had been working on the design of a residence for DSA Nepal with a group of students from the faculty of architecture," said Beaverford, who is a professor of interior design and the school’s design consultant.
"CNIB’s instructors blindfolded the class and taught basic techniques using canes. Although the lessons were helpful, many of the techniques didn’t seem to apply to children who were too poor to have access to canes and live in a rural setting," she added.
The Fort Rouge resident, who is currently working on another project in Sri Lanka, says the Nepal experience was invaluable.
"It was transformative for all participants. The children responded well to their training and gained confidence and pride in the use of their canes. Each child washed their cane in a bucket before going out and would proudly tell people in the neighbourhood they were in training."
Community journalist — The Lance
Simon Fuller is the community journalist for The Lance. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org Call him at 204-697-7111