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T&T Blind Welfare Association turns 100

Published: 
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Blind Welfare Association members Joanne Lal, Curtis Philip, Sherwin Philip and Janelle Jacob are in charge of planning the upcoming concert hosted by the Association. PHOTO: KEARRA GOPEE

Upon entering the Blind Welfare Association, the first thing you notice is the woven baskets stacked in a corner of the room. In another corner, some people are chatting, while others looked intensely focused on weaving more baskets. It wasn’t the busiest time of day though, for workers at the Blind Welfare Association when the T&T Guardian recently visited its headquarters at the corner of Duke and Edward Streets in Port-of-Spain. 

 

Most of the workers were at a special Mother’s Day luncheon held elsewhere on the premises while others were out promoting the Associations upcoming 100th anniversary celebrations that begin on May 26. The Association’s workshop and property manager, Floyd Lalite who is legally blind, said a regular day at the institution begins at 8 am with workers making and repairing handicraft items. On the second floor of the four-storey building, visually impaired teacher Beverly Fitzallan, teaches braille and computer literacy.
“It’s usually quite busy around here, just like any other office,” said Lalite. 

 

He said most of the handicraft on display at the Association’s showroom were orders completed for corporate clients like National Flour Mills, Chief Brand Products and Caribbean Airlines. “We have orders from time to time from ordinary citizens as well, but our larger orders always come from our corporate clients,” said Lalite. Lalite said the workers are paid from the government subvention the Association receives as well as from year-round fund raising events and corporate sponsorship. The Blind Welfare Association is still in need of more financial aid and volunteers to teach programmes. “There are about 100 staff employees between the three locations various locations. Manpower is always needed on a continuous basis to assist with the implementation of programmes,” said Ragoo.

He said they were also in need of items such as office furniture, air condition units and  computers among other things. Lalite said the Association is no longer fits the “welfare mode” of decades ago, rather it is now a place that empowers the visually impaired. “You do not have to babysit anybody here. They are all quite capable of looking after themselves,” said Lalite. He added, they live normal lives much like those who are sighted. “We have some workers here who go to the beach and party regularly. There is even a group that attends Soca Monarch each year,” said Lalite. He said he believed over the years people had learned to appreciate that being blind did not make someone handicapped.
“Technology has made it much easier for us to get around, to read and keep up with current affairs in the world. There is actually very little that a visually impaired person cannot do these days,” said Lalite.

However, he pointed out there was need for better infrastructure with regard to the design of pavements, because they were still not “blind friendly.”  At the south office, manager Deonarine Ragoo endorsed Lalite’s sentiments saying the message the Association continues to try to convey, is that blindness is not the end of the world. He commended the move by President Anthony Carmona on the appointment of Hugh Russell Ian Roach, who is paralysed and uses a wheelchair, to the position of temporary Independent Senator.
“This shows that we are getting past that ignorance that once disabled you cannot live a normal life,” said Ragoo, in a telephone interview. He continued: “The Association’s objective is that a blind person must be able to survive and be as independent as possible and that is what they are taught at the institution.”

In addition to traditional basketry some of the craft skills taught include chair caning, seagrassing and furniture building. Students also learn music, cooking and a number of other basic functions. They are now also keeping fit with the physical education programme recently added to the Association’s list of activities. Ragoo said the Association had a lot to be proud of. “We have had so many success stories, so many have left here and done well.”  He made specific mention of extempo champ, Joseph “Lingo” Vautor-La Placeliere and deceased pianist Morris Connor who for many years was the musical accompanist on talent shows Twelve and Under and Teen Talent. Workers at the Blind Welfare Association spoke passionately about their growth since they’ve been there. Handicraft instructor Leon George, said he lived with fear and low self esteem for years until he went to the Association. “I came here in 1994 to learn braille and typing and it just opened up a whole new world for me. I became more confident and my self-worth and dignity were restored,” said George.

Tricia Bruce who is pregnant with her third baby is in her final year at the University of the Southern Caribbean in St Joseph, completing her degree in education. The computer instructor who formerly taught at primary school level at the School for the Blind in Santa Cruz, said she met her husband at the Association when started teaching computer literacy in 1997. “The best part of being here is that you meet like people who are just as driven as you are,” Bruce told the T&T Guardian. PR consultants Janelle Jacob and Joan Lall who are promoting all upcoming events for the anniversary said the institution made most of them who they are today. “Most of us got our start here,” said Lall.

 

It’s a Celebration

To mark the Association’s 100th anniversary there will be a series of events beginning with Jewels of the Evening, a concert at NAPA. All performers will be students from the Association. The MC for the event is visually impaired sports commentator and radio announcer Kern Tyson. The Association hopes to raise at least $100,000 from the concert. 
There will also be a dinner in December at Paria Suites, San Fernando. Other activities include a sports and family day and an eye disease awareness campaign during which T-shirts, bumper stickers and posters.

 

List of activities
• Jewels of the Evening
•National Awards function
•Family day 
•100th year commemorative magazine 
•An open week for the members
of the public to visit all branches of the association
 •National awareness programme
•Membership volunteer and client registration drive 
•The distribution aides and
equipment to the blind and visually impaired persons 
•Sale of sovereign items 
•School
reunion 
•Student Camp 
•100th year historical compilation of work for the blind in
Trinidad and Tobago 
•Social and recreation activities 
•Fundraising projects.

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