14 Jan 2011

The First Ethiopian Braillin

Firstly we shall tell you the story of the Braillin doll as a tribute to its creator Virginia Araceli Perez de Vallejo, a teacher from the province of Corrientes in Argentina.  She is one of these anonymous heroines who invent great things for humanity.

Virginia is a teacher at the Corrientes Special School No.26 for the blind and visually impaired.  By squeezing the six very large buttons on the chest of Braillin, children who have difficulty to see can learn all the possible combinations of the Braille alphabet.  This toy, slightly modified, was first presented to the world by ONCE (National Organisation for the Blind in Spain).  Braillin became the first global initiative to teach Braille through play.  In 2006 Braillin was the mascot for the Spanish Paralympics team.

So far so good, but the sad twist in the tale is that Braillin has never made it into the schools of Argentina because of a lack of money to commercialise and distribute it in the country.

In Mediterranea, having written to Virginia to ask for her permission and advice, we are going to make our own Ethiopian Braillin and Braillina dolls.  We already have a group of very skilled ladies who have committed to produce the dolls for the blind children of Akaki Mengist School.  At the moment there are 17 such children at the school but that number is set to change when we have built the new classrooms.

For the moment and while we await the birth of the Ethiopian Braillin dolls we are sending them play based teaching material from Spain.  We had wanted to buy a lot more but the prices of these educational toys are high and those labelled as specially for the disabled even higher.  For this reason we are trying to make what we can by handicraft.  In Ethiopia one can find books in Braille in English and Amharic, Braille material and Perkins Braillers, which are Braille typewriters.  We are going to subsidise the purchase of these items, all of which are essential for the blind.

To start with though and bearing in mind that these children have never been taught, they will have to practice the system of Braille using eggcups and small balls.  The system consists of cells of six points in relief, organised as a matrix of 3 lines and 2 columns, that conventionally are numbered from top to bottom and left to right, as shown in the photo.  For this reason the eggcups and balls will be very useful and when their Braillin dolls arrive (with our next trip in April) they will be even more motivated to learn.

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