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Caritas Rehabilitation Center Helps Blind Girls, Women

Updated: November 17, 2008 06:10 AM GMT
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Salma Sharif loved listening to her television, spending hours in front of it everyday. She could not watch it, being blind from birth, but did not know how else to spend her time.

A blind Catholic girl working on a Braille typewriter at the Caritas-sponsored Ananias Rehabilitation Center for visually impaired girls and women, in Lahore, Pakistan, on Oct. 31.
"I did nothing for months except sit in front of the television, until I got a call for a job from the Ananias Rehabilitation Center," Sharif told UCA News. Caritas, the Catholic Church´s social-service agency, has been running the residential center for 20 years in Lahore, 270 kilometers southeast of Islamabad, for visually impaired girls and young women. Sharif, 16, knew the center well, having spent five years there completing the course of studies it offers. Then she returned home. "It was again the same boredom," she recalled, because her parents, who cannot read, were not willing to send her for further studies. "When sighted and educated youth are challenged by unemployment, what can a blind person do?" they asked her. The phone call from the center answered that question: she could teach other young people facing the same difficulties she faces. Though not trained to be a teacher, she tutors students in mathematics, science, social studies, Islamic studies, English and Urdu, Pakistan´s national language. Currently, 20 young Christians, aged from 6 to 25, reside at the center. pa_lahore.gif"I only get 500 rupees (about US$6) a month for salary, but I feel more relaxed at the center. At least I now have the sense of passing time," Sharif said. Sna Fazal, one of the students, recovered some of her eyesight after coming to the center. "I lost my sight in childhood due to an electric shock. The center financed my operation in 2005, and now I can recognize faces," she said. Meanwhile, she learned to make handicrafts and do some knitting through vocational classes at the center. What she wants to do, however, is "become a teacher and help other blind children become useful citizens." Khalida Nelson, 54, the center´s manager, told UCA News almost all residents are dependent on family members when they arrive. "Thus, special attention is given to daily living skills. We encourage them to do jobs, like bringing a glass of water into the office or making their own bed." Besides working at the center, the Catholic woman and her team also visit blind children at home, teaching them about personal hygiene while urging parents to make them feel useful. "Generally people think of such children as useless," she acknowledged. One reason such visits are necessary, she explained, is that the Caritas facility lacks the space and finances for a larger residential program.
Khalida Nelson, manager of Caritas-sponsored Annanias Rehabilitation Center for visually impaired girls and women, in Lahore, Pakistan, displays work done by the residents, on Oct. 31.
The center offers its services free, spending about 2,000 rupees a month for each resident, which includes the salaries of four assistants and two teachers. It barely manages with funding from Caritas and a foreign donor, its only income, according to Nelson. She pointed out it has only one Braille typewriter for all its students. The two teachers, also blind, guide students to read and write in Braille up to the equivalent of fifth grade in ordinary schools. After this, the center refers students to government institutions for further education. One former student has reached college level, Nelson said, calling this great motivation and encouragement for those still at the center. "I want to become a teacher and help blind children get an education," says Sidra Arif, 19, a fifth grader. "We have made new friends now and can play different games. I can also cook a few dishes, knit clothes and make some decorative items. Most importantly, there is company." The late Archbishop Armando Trindade of Lahore started this center in 1998 in Youhanabad, a densely populated Christian colony on the outskirts of the city, to help blind Christian women advance socially and economically. Ananias, in the Acts of the Apostles, is the disciple through whom the risen Christ returns Saint Paul´s sight, lost during the saint´s conversion experience on the road to Damascus. END

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