8. Helping blind children and young people to become valued adults and citizens in Guinea-Bissau

Manuel Lopes Rodrigues
AGRICE - The Guinean Bissau Association for Rehabilitation and Integration of the Blind Person

Associação Guineense de Reabilitação e Integração dos Cegos. http://worldschildrensprize.org/manuelrodrigues.

Children with disabilities face high risks of being victims of abandonment and abuse

In Guinea-Bissau, people with disabilities are all too often seen as dispensable. It is common to believe that they cannot learn, and therefore cannot work, so they are seen as worthless and a burden on the family budget.

Even more worryingly, many of these people are abandoned by their parents and families at a young age. As subjects of negligence and abandonment, they are also easy targets for violence and abuse.

Promoting inclusion of blind children by ensuring their access to shelter, health and education

AGRICE tries to overcome this situation by providing a home, safety, food, medical assistance and access to education to blind children and young people. AGRICE undertakes rural rescue missions to search for blind children, as well as children with other disabilities, who often have extremely difficult lives. During these missions, AGRICE also raises rural communities’ awareness that disabled children and young people have the same rights as all other children and young people, and teaches people how to protect themselves and their children against common eye diseases.

In the city of Bissau, AGRICE has established a school, Escola Bengala Branca, or the White Cane School, where blind children and young people learn how to write and read braille along with all the others subjects children should learn. This is also a place where they can develop their capacities in safety and be in contact with other children, blind and non-blind, since the school has adopted an inclusive methodology and provides education for all.

As a part of this project there is also a foster home for children and young people living far from their families, and those who were abandoned or neglected by them. In the foster home their nutritional, medical, hygiene and other social needs are guaranteed by a team. The children also learn “to get washed and dressed, do cleaning, wash dishes, cook simple meals, and other life skills for independent living in the future and to be able to help their families when they return home.” 1

With these two social responses the project provides the conditions for the healthy and safe development of blind children and young people, with a clear purpose: whenever possible, these children and young people should return to their families as skilled and self-sufficient individuals. One of the main ideas is to “help children and young people move back home. They prepare the children’s families, neighbours and teachers in their villages before the children return, so that they will be welcomed in a positive way. If it is not possible for a child to be reunited with their family, they help the child to find a foster family.” 2

The project promotes the inclusion of these children and young people and, consequently, all blind people in society. It affirms the fact that they are citizens with duties and rights like non-blind persons, fights prejudice, raises awareness about what it means to be blind and how to prevent blindness, and works daily to achieve the goal of leaving no one behind.

Knowledge of the context and high-level political commitment are keys to success

AGRICE has operated as a local and national association since 1996, and has an accordingly close knowledge of the reality of problems blind children and young people face in the country. This knowledge includes the individual experience of its president, Manuel Lopes Rodrigues, who understands the everyday difficulties of blind people, since he became blind at the age of three.

It now operates with annual financial support from the Ministry of Labour, Solidarity and Social Security of Portugal, provided since 2004. Guinea-Bissau’s own Ministry of Women, Family and Social Cohesion officially recognises the importance of the project, and the Guinean authorities also support the project by providing regular teachers to the school. Nevertheless, the support currently provided is not enough for the increasing number of children and their needs.

In 2017, Rodrigues won the World’s Children’s Prize, awarded by the World Children’s Foundation for outstanding work done for children in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This was an international acknowledgement of AGRICE’s persistence and tenacity in working towards a future where blind children and young people can become adults and citizens without being left behind.

What next?

AGRICE will maintain its project quality while continuing to search for new sources of financial support. The project team will be provided with good conditions, technical skills and materials. Finally, AGRICE is seeking to expand the project to other regions of the country such as Gabú.

End of the section – Back to iLibrary publication page