2011 has been an exciting year for the Kilimanjaro Blind Trust (KBT) and we are happy to report that we continue to make progress towards enabling every child in Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya have access to a Perkins Brailler® so they can be literate, educated, and lead productive and fulfilling lives.
From January to October 2011, we have repaired another 723 braillers in Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya, which increases the total number of braillers repaired over the past four years alone to more than 3,221 braillers.
We are pleased that the program, after lots of learning and hard work, is becoming more and more a proven model. The braillers are repaired through expert brailler repair technicians who are trained through a “train the trainer” method in East Africa. This year alone, 11 new technicians in Kenya, 12 in Uganda, and 10 in Tanzania were trained on braille repair techniques by experts in East Africa and the total network now has over 50 qualified technicians.
In 2011,we also developed standardized curriculum and examinations to ensure that those technicians who are trained possess the sufficient skills to conduct repairs. That way, the trainings are consistent and measurable, and we can select the best technicians for future more advanced training and mentoring. Each technician takes a theory and practical exam after the basic and advanced courses. After the basic training, they are evaluated in the field to assess commitment level and on-the-job skills. The methods were developed by combining the best practices of all three countries, with input from Perkins.
In addition, we created mechanisms that shortened the time it takes to repair a brailler and instituted a loaner program. Spare parts were shipped to the three countries this summer so that they have parts on hand and can repair braillers faster. All countries concerned now have braille repair centers we have created, and stocked with spare parts. A loaner program was created that allows a school to be provided with a spare brailler while theirs is being repaired. Then, a child is still able to learn and participate in class continuously.
Representatives from the KBT countries met at the Africa Forum in July 2011, the only Pan- African conference of its kind in the field of blindness.
(http://www.perkins.org/idp/africa-forum/) The conference was sponsored by Perkins and its partners. There, we worked on a long-term plan and shared best practices in brailler repair with other countries (see pictures below). Additionally, we spoke with people from other African countries on how to use the KBT model to expand brailler repair in other parts of the continent and launched a matching grant program which other African countries may apply for. We are looing to expand to one other country in 2012.
In additiion, web-based software was created to track the repaired braillers and parts in order to create a unified system and central database. We also have been developing a culturally appropriate incentive program for the braille technicians. Options include small gifts, providing tools, and paying for transportation. In 2012, we will explore which incentive works best for the technicians to produce a sustainable system. Through these pilot programs, KBT will continue to expand and grow throughout Africa.
In 2011, we also launched and researched pilot projects in order to expand the work of KBT. Christian Polman and Kiprotich Juma from Kenya began research on alternatives to brailler paper in Africa. Braillers require specific, heavy stock brailler paper, which is expensive to ship and hard to obtain. Through his research, we hope to lower the cost of braille paper through bulk purchasing and alternative sources.
Despite the hard work of the brailler repair technicians and KBT, a need still exists for more repaired and new braillers in East Africa. Currently, there is still a high student to brailler ratio, which we hope to lower with the donation of more braillers and more repaired braillers. Additionally, as emphasized by the continued trainings, there is a need for more spare parts and dust covers, which will keep the dust off the braillers and reduce the need for repair. Moreover, as children graduate from secondary school and move on to work or university, they have no tools with which to write other than a slate. Ideally, they would each graduate with a brailler as well. We will therefore especially focus on University students and try to cover them all.
As a result of all of the work, braille literacy is increasing in Africa and more children have access to a Perkins brailler. Many are starting to notice the impact of the KBT efforts .I just have included two recent testimonials of the many we receive.
We appreciate your ongoing support and would continue to be open to any help you can give in attracting further funds and awareness to the activities of the KBT.