Friday, 30 July 2010

"The House that Jack Built"

Well we actually did it. Not long ago I wrote a blog entitled ‘Screen Saviour’ about the Fantsuam Academy’s forthcoming computer training course for the visually impaired. Last Saturday three blind students sat and passed the online Computer Certificate exam. The first three visually impaired students to do so in Bayan Loco. Probably the first in Kafanchan and very likely the first in southern Kaduna State.

Fantsuam Academy has already migrated its Certificate exam on an online learning platform (Dokeos) which meant that no special arrangements had to be made for visually impaired to take the exam once they were familiar with JAWS screen reader software.

(Left) The three students concentrate hard whilst taking the exam.

Their efforts paid off as they proudly (and delightedly) hold up their certificates.

But, like the house that Jack built, there’s a lot of people, from across Nigeria – and the world - that have been involved in getting to this stage.

An initial workshop on inclusion by VSO volunteer Monique Beets, currently serving at the Demonstration School for the Deaf in Kaduna, encouraged VSOs to consider which groups were currently actively excluded from their programmes. This gave me the idea of ensuring the visually impaired were included on our computer course.

Monique at the VSO North West Patch Meeting held in Jos last November, in the days VSOs were allowed in Jos.

A Small Grant from VSO UK gave us the resources to start. Another VSO colleague, Paul Wildenberg, put me in touch with his mother who works with the visually impaired in Holland.

Industrial action at Paul’s partner organisation in Yola in the far east of Nigeria coincided with our JAWS training course so Paul used the downtime to visit Kafanchan to see the training for himself with a view to starting a programme in his own state

Paul’s mother gave me the contact of another former VSO Nigeria volunteer Jan Bloem who now works in Holland for Freedom Scientific, publishers of market-leading JAWS screen reader software.
Left - meeting up with Jan at the VSO office during his flying trip to Nigeria

Below: visiting Jan's former colleague Scholastica (left), manager at the JAWS-equipped Computer Resource Centre at the Ministry of Women Affairs in Abuja.

Jan put me in touch with Danlami Bashru of the Anglo Nigerian Welfare Association for the Blind (ANWAB) who generously donated five JAWS licences which meant that we didn’t have to spend the whole of the VSO ‘small grant’ on software but could pay for expert trainers, Braille books and scholarships for students.

My Kagoro friend Jonathan introduced me to his former Gindiri classmate Obeya who introduced me to his current University of Jos colleague Femi Oridupa who’s a JAWS expert. Together Femi and Obeya trained not only our visually impaired students but also Fantsuam Academy instructors who will be able to teach the courses in the future.

Meeting Obeya for the first time with other former classmates of Jonathan at Gindiri School for the Blind in Plateau State

At Fantsuam Foundation Academy staff John Iruaga and Kelechi Micheals helped the course get off the ground whilst Academy instructors Keziah ad Fidelis learnt themselves how to use, and train JAWS.

The Fantsuam JAWS team, left to Right: Fidelis, Obeya, Peter, Keziah, Stephen, Jonathan, Femi and John

So this is the start. But where does it go in the future?

The good news is that Femi was recently elected Class President of the University of Jos’ Special Education Department, the first handicapped student to stand for, let alone win such a post. He aims to make computers accessible to all visually impaired students in Nigeria by 2020. He might just do that but he’s going to need help.

Obeya is already involved with a NGO helping the handicapped in his home state of Benue when he’s not at University. Obeya’s still trying to get his hands on his own laptop computer so that he can really learn JAWS well but in the mean time, he’s spreading the word and focusing on getting to complete his Special Education degree.

I heard yesterday that Jonathan will be returning to Secondary School on 12 September with sponsorship from the State of Kaduna to help him complete his schooling to give him a chance at further education.
I would like to think he’ll be one of the students working towards Femi’s 2020 goal in years to come. He hasn’t his own computer but is planning to spend as much time as possible using the JAWS computers at Fantsuam until he can get hold of one of his own.

I wonder who’s going to manage his football team – Rock United whilst he’s away at school?

Jonathan – I hope you’re reading this!

Jonathan (back row, 3rd from right) with his Rock United before a game.

Stephen and Peter are due to be enrolled on Fantsuam’s Computer Diploma course and at the Kafanchan Rehabilitation Centre where Stephen and Peter work, Fantsuam has already delivered microenterprise training to 20 children and adults and, as a result, a second loan group is in the formation. It may not be computers for all, but it’s definitely empowerment.

But for me one of the greatest achievements of this course has been the impact of ‘mainstreaming’. Because of discrimination and stigmatisation of handicap in Nigeria, the visually impaired are rarely seen except perhaps begging being led by a small child across the streets of Kafanchan or any of the country’s other towns and cities.
For the last four weeks, all the staff, students and other beneficiaries of Fantsuam have become accustomed to having Femi, Obeya, Stephen, Peter and Jonathan around at Fantsuam. Seeing them walk confidently across classrooms or the compound sometimes with a guiding stick, sometimes without.
We’ve spent years in the West learning that the handicapped are just ‘normal’ people. The process is just beginning here in rural Nigeria.

Hopefully our story at Fantsuam is just a small part of the tale that realises Femi’s dream that all visually impaired university students will have access to computers.


Pamela McLean said...

What an achievement - and on so many levels. Congratulations to the successful students, to everyone involved in the preparations and the presentation of the course, and to everyone who (over the past years and the recent months) has helped to provide the foundations that this course was able to build on.

"Well done" to everyone.

Sabine said...

Dear Cicely, what a great story! Well done. Congratulations first of all to the 3 students, but also to yourself, Fantsuam Foundation, Jan and all the others who where involved in making this change possible and happening. Thanks for sharing this story with the world as it clearly demonstrates what an impact the work of just a few can make.
Wishing you and your students all the very best for the future.
Greetings from Germany. Sabine

Amela Jones said...

Is there any further reading you would recommend on this?

IT Training Hertfordshire

Cicely Brown said...

Hello Amela - thanks for your comment! It's been a long time since I was involved in the project.. so can't really help with anything current. Google is probably your best friend here.. Sorry about that - but really appreciated that someone is still reading the blog!