We are continuing with the work at Sebeta, preparing the new classroom where the children who can see and will soon be able to see will be able to learn to read and write. Our goal will be to allow these children to reintegrate themselves into society by June and to support them with uniforms and school materials. As these children’s parents had been told that their children would go blind our Ophthalmic Doctor will issue certificates in English to verify that they can see.
In Sebeta there are only 220 beds for the 340 children who stay there. This means that 120 have to sleep outside because of lack of space, of these 79 are girls, those most at risk. They are at the mercy of men who go looking for them or their male companions from the school who also have to sleep rough. This results in abuse and violations that sometimes ends in pregnancy. If girls become pregnant they are thrown out of school and have to turn to begging on the streets of Addis.
This is another reason that we want to educate the children who can see, so that they can leave the blind school and return to their homes. In this way these very vulnerable girls can occupy their beds.
Ethiopian society considers the eye as a light of the body, without this light the body is dark. Society considers those with visual disability as people without hope, who will not be able to achieve anything, damned by God, dependent on the rest and who have to be isolated forever from society. This perhaps explains why there are children who can see at Sebeta, simply because they can’t see in one eye or because someone has told their parents that they will go blind.
In the face of all of this we cannot stand on the sidelines. We may not be able to change the prejudice of the people but we have to try and make things better for these children. By next Tuesday we’ll know how many children can see and how many we can help to see again. With this information we’ll be able to start up the new classroom, work to put these children back into society and thereby provide protection and security for the girls who are now living outdoors.
It is surreal that many of those children who can see are living indoors while the truly blind girls have to live outside.