'Scores of blind children in Ghana are dumped at the Akropong School for the Blind by their families never to come back for them just because they are blind' describes Abigail Bentil with a heavy heart.
Visually impaired herself, Abigail proves to the world that disability is not inability. At age 25, Abigail Bentil is a University Graduate, a member of the Youth Advisory Panel of the United Nations Populations Fund in Ghana and a National Executive Member of KERAPA- a national youth and adolescent network on Population and Development in Ghana.
With a strong belief that every human being deserves to be treated with respect and dignity no matter their circumstance or their situation Abigail advocates for equal opportunities and justice for the physically challenged.
Abigail was not born blind. She could see normally and ‘loved catching birds and throwing stones’ until at age five when she started having eye problems. After being diagnosed as a glaucoma patient, she underwent three eye surgeries which only worsened her crisis; Abigail wakes up one morning to realize sadly that her sight had failed her. She was only 11 then. Initially she felt sad as life was very challenging but life was normal at some point- ‘with time I got used to looking for things with my hands instead of my eyes’ narrates Abigail. Since then, this gem resolved to stay strong, healthy and cultivate a positive attitude towards life.
On 5th June 2010, Abigail will invite the public to dine with her in total darkness at the Coconut Grove Regency Hotel in Accra. ‘People will be invited to experience blindness for a moment. To taste what it is like trying to take food into your mouth and it falls down instead’ explains Abigail enthusiastically. The main aim of this stakeholders’ dinner is to raise funds to support the education of blind children who are unfortunately most of the time forgotten, neglected and abandoned by their families. Many blind children in Ghana do not get the chance to go to school at all. Those who are in school struggle to pay their tuition fees as many families turn their back on their blind children.
The young advocate and heroine aims at raising GHC 10,000 ($10,000) to create an educational fund for blind children in Ghana at this dinner.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that there are about 1.4 million children who are blind worldwide and millions more who are visually impaired.
A report from VISION 2020 (a joint programme by W.H.O. and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness to eliminate avoidable blindness) suggests that every minute a child goes blind. The report adds that children below the ages five (5) are prone to blindness. 60% of these blind children die within the same year they become are blind. According to the same source, about 90% of blind children do not get formal education worldwide hence a good number of blind children do not realize their full potential.
The Situation of Blind Children In Ghana
In 2007, Dr. Oscar Debrah of the Eye Unit of the Ghana Health Service estimated that there are some 8000 blind children in Ghana. There are two major institutions that provide education, accommodation and feeding for the blind in Ghana. There is the Wa School for the Blind in the Upper West Region in Ghana which serves visually impaired persons in the northern sector of the country. The second one is the Akropong School of the Blind which is also meant to serve persons without sight in the southern zone in Ghana but these institutions are seriously handicapped as at today.
Present report describes for instance the Akropong School for the Blind as an institution that ‘is faced with a myriad of infrastructural, logistic, financial, and personnel challenges’. Though the Ghana Government funds the institution, ‘the funds are usually delayed and it is also woefully inadequate.’ states a report by the Ghana News Agency.There is lack of personnel including lack of a nurse and adequate subject teachers, lack of accommodation for teachers and other workers in the school among other challenges.
Non-Governmental organisation like the Ghana Association of the Blind aims at meeting the needs of blind and visually impaired persons in Ghana. The priority areas of the organisation include increasing rehabilitation services, increasing access to education and information as well as creating opportunities for the blind and partially sighted people in Ghana.
The Role of Families
Despite the lapses from Government and Civil society, if families would love, care and support blind children their potential can be realized. A case in point is Abigail.Though many parents see their blind children as abnormal, Abigail is seen and treated very special by her family. ‘My family has been very supportive’ says Abigail beaming with infectious smiles. Abigail is allowed to go out and have fun with her sisters. ‘My family never did or do anything to remind me that I am different’. Abigail is giving the opportunity to walk and work with her siblings. From going to places of interests to helping in household chores such as fetching water, washing and sweeping Abigail is a heroine and a role model to many Ghanaian blind girls. ‘My sisters support me immensely’ says Abigail. ‘I remember the times I fetched water with my sisters- they would warn do not take the left or right turn, there is gutter’ reminisce Miss Bentil. This way Abigail feels loved, appreciated and supported.
Speaking about her challenges, Miss Bentil talks about the wrong assumptions by the general public towards the blind. Another major challenge is lack of opportunity to meet influential people in their offices to speak to them about her programme and to solicit funds just because she is visually impaired. ’Sometimes, they just give me One cedi ($1) when they see me but I am neatly dressed and desire to speak to managers about the impending programme’ says Abigail.Despite these challenges Abigail has managed to bring on board a number of corporate organisations such as Voltic Mineral water and Coca Cola to support her initiative.
Abigail envisions a ‘world where the blind and the partially sighted persons have equal rights and opportunities’. She looks forward to dinning, wining and raising the targeted amount for the educational fund for blind children. Miss Bentil invites all and sundry to join hands and hearts to help educate blind children in Ghana.