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THE IMPORTANCE & CREATIVE USES OF BRAILLE IN MY LIFE
Pham Van Dang, Vietnam 37 male

I was born with eyes that were not normal like other children. Despite my poor eyesight, I was still able to attend school up to Grade 8 but had to drop out when I could no longer read the printed words. This meant I had to stay at home, in a small house, feeling sad, confused and discouraged. I knew that without eyesight and education, the "door" to a meaningful life had been closed on me forever. It was at this desperate moment that something happened which would change my life forever - it was as if a brilliant light was guiding me to a brighter future.

It all began in 1996, when some staff members from the Blind Association of Yen Kanh District, Ninh Binh Province, came to recruit blind persons to participate in their programmes. I was so happy to be discovered for I now had the opportunity to mix with other blind people and to learn some useful skills.

Thus, I was introduced to Braille - a strange type of writing that I had never known before. I can still recall the first time I touched these tiny dots. My fingers ran over and over them but I could not recognise any of the words these tiny dots represented. I began to feel very discouraged. Fortunately, my family and friends gave me encouragement, and my teachers were very patient in teaching me the Braille system. So I did not give up. After many sleepless nights and weeks of practice, I could finally read and write Braille. Using the simple slate and stylus, i could write my name and those of my family members, and this made me very happy. From then on, Braille has become a part of my daily life. The Braille system is so wonderful - with only six dots, it can open up such a wealth of knowledge!

In order to improve my prospect in life, i took up a number of courses that included computer training, massage and farming. I was determined to succeed in my studies, so I bought my own computer. Together with Braille and with the computer connected to the Internet, I was able to source for useful information; thereby increasing my knowledge and living skills. In this way, I gradually overcame my inferiority complex and was able to be integrated into the community.

As my hometown was an agricultural area, I paid special attention to the sourcing of information on the Internet related to the care of animals and plants. I took down notes in Braille with regards to the methods of care for each type of plants, live-stock and poultry.

In 2001 I was very fortunate to have been given some loans by the Association of the Blind in my district for farming. As the money was inadequate for my project, I discussed with my parents to mortgage the family's land in order to borrow more money to rent land for a breeding farm. Initially, my parents were horrified with the suggestion. They said the loan was too large and they would not have the means to repay the debt should the project fail. Furthermore, how could a visual impaired person manage such a farm? However, through patient persuasion and careful planning, they finally gave their blessing.

At the end of 2001, I married a girl from my hometown. Together we worked on the 3 hectares of agricultural land. We rented an excavator to dig fish-ponds on 1.5 hectares and used the remaining area of land for putting up cages and shelters to raise pigs, chickens, ducks and pigeons.

We began to face problems right from the start due to our lack of experience. The live-stock grew very slowly as many of them died from diseases. In fact, for the first three years we hardly earned any income while we had to pay back the bank loan with interest. Many a time, therefore, I wanted to give up. Then with encouragement from other people, I regained my self-confidence and I was more determined to succeed with our plans.

I took out the notes on farming and care of live-stock that I had taken down in Braille, including the self-study materials from the Internet, to refresh my memory and find out where I went wrong. I believe God was on my side at that critical time. After reviewing the materials in Braille and with help from the District Agricultural Department, coupled with the experiences gained from my failures, we began to make progress and managed to earn money from our hard work.

I remember once reading an article on the Internet about a disabled person who had a big farm with hundreds of cows and buffaloes that fetched him good income every year. I discussed this information with my wife and we agreed to try out this farming venture. We visited families to learn about the methods of rearing cows and buffaloes. I also bought books on this subject to learn more techniques on caring of the animals. I took down all the important points in Braille.

Thus equipped with the necessary knowledge, we bought two pairs of cows on a trial basis. It was successful, so we bought three more pairs of the animals. To meet the right conditions for breeding buffaloes, I built new sheds and repaired the old ones and planted grass as food for the animals. I used Braille to record information about food intake, cleaning time, vaccination dates, and the times for buying and selling of the live-stock. I also wrote down my plans and budget for the coming year.

Our herd of buffaloes grew fast without diseases and they reproduced very well. Up to now, we have more than ten female buffaloes and cows on the farm which have provided us with more than a dozen calves. We also have hundreds of pigeons to supply to the commune every year. Happily, we were able to settle all our debts and to build a spacious house complete with the conveniences for our daily life.

And so day by day, with determination and our joint efforts, I have been able to overcome the challenges and difficulties in my life. The anxious feelings about the future had disappeared, and I can see that life is really beautiful and meaningful. Although my parents have not said anything aloud to me, I can sense that they are very happy with my accomplishments, and they know that it is magic Braille that has brought such a wonderful change for their "less fortunate" son.

Indeed, Braille will always be a friend of mine as it has brought me love, optimism and the desire to live. Deep in my heart, I know I owe it all to Louis Braille who invented the Braille alphabet which has made a great difference in my life and given all blind people the hope for a brighter future.


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