By Priya Pradhan
In Nepal, blindness and visual impairment are not only health problems but also major social and economic problems. Many perceive the disability as a inferiority and often times impaired individuals are treated as a burden and not given the care and support they require, especially in the educational field. According to the 2011 National Population Census, the population of the blind in Nepal is 96,000. Most of these individuals lack higher education and consequently, they cannot find proper means of employment. Even in the capital city, blind individuals have a very limited choice of accessible literature and study material.
Blind students enrolled into the public school system are enrolled in the same schools as their sighted peers. Although most of them to do not study in specialized schools, they are taught in braille and the government has also supported their education through the publication of braille coursebooks. The major disadvantage for the blind students is that though there is availability of coursebooks, there is a scarcity of literature books, novels, story books, etc. required for leisure reading. Even if children wish to buy such braille books from the market, they are likely to be unable to find them. Moreover, the price for such books is very high and they are not financially feasible for most.
This year, Rato Bangala Kitab and the Bal Sahitya Mahotsav have teamed up to publish two unique children’s books in braille. In the past, RBK has printed braille books and after seeing the dire need for more braille books it has re-launched two of its titles Kehi Paye Kehi Gumaye and Bafre Habre, which have been previously published in both Nepali and English. Two copies of each of these books are set to be distributed to 75 schools across the country, where visually impaired students are enrolled. Monita Gurung, who has overseen the complete publication and launch process, says the reason behind launching the braille books was a desire “to share the best of quality reading and develop a culture of reading."
Out of the two books that were launched, Kehi Paye Kehi Gumaye, by Shanta Dixit, revolves around a story of a young girl in a post-earthquake situation, teaching readers about its consequences and how to cope with the natural disaster. Bafre Habre, by Milan Dixit, is a fact-based book aimed to raise awareness about wildlife conservatism and promotes environment-based career options through an engaging and well-written story. During the launch, which took place as a part of the BSM inaugural ceremony, two students from LAB and AdarshaSoul read out loud their favourite parts of the books. With their fingers gently scanning the pages and a few hesitant pauses, the students read to us through touch, showing everyone that reading and learning cannot be bound by disabilities.
The audience was then addressed by Komal Thapa, President of the Nepal Association of the Welfare of the Blind (NAWB), who stated that "People, even in Kathmandu, are not aware that blind individuals are capable of reading. With such a situation, it is extremely difficult to find books in braille." He spoke about the about the importance of reading and books, especially to children and expressed his appreciation towards RBK for showing interest and taking the initiative to launch these braille books. With the help of NAWB, the braille books will reach the hands of underprivileged children and imbue in them a passion for reading and thirst for education.
NOTE: Though these books will not be available in the market, interested individuals can contact RBK to purchase any remaining copies.
Priya Pradhan is an A1 student at Rato Bangala School. She runs The Circle, RBS's student magazine.