Two blind women fulfill their dreams with help from a special association [Archives:2008/1156/Last Page]

May 19 2008

Alia Ishaq
“Ever since I was a young girl, I used to dream of going to school carrying my bag, but that wasn't possible,” says Jamila Ahmed Al-Raimee, a 30-year-old blind woman.

Jamila, who was born blind, was the only daughter among her three seeing brothers. In her home in Raymah governorate in a village near Hodeidah, she learned how to cook and clean from an early age, despite her lack of eyesight.

“In my village, we didn't have the instruments we have nowadays, so cooking and cleaning were a lot of hard work,” she explained. After all of her brothers married, Jamila was lonely and forgotten by her brothers, who focused on their wives instead of her. Tired of all the hard work and misunderstanding, Jamila decided to move to Sana'a and live with her uncle.

However, what she thought would be a better life turned out to be nearly the exact same as her previous life. While living with her uncle, Jamila did most of the housework and was treated like an outsider.

“I don't blame him much because I'm not his daughter, so what if I didn't receive but one dress every year?” she said. But as her cousins set off for school every day, Jamila would sit on the stairs and cry.

In 1997, she heard about Al-Aman Association for Blind Women and set out to join it.

The organization was established at 1995 by Fatima Al-Aqel, herself a blind woman, who had a dream of integrating blind women into Yemeni society instead of begging on the streets, as they often must do.

The idea to form such an association came to Al-Aqel after she witnessed and felt for herself the struggle that blind women face as they try to fulfill their dreams, which sometimes are as simple as continuing their education, something many of us take for granted.

Having begun with two teachers and two students, the association now takes care of some 700 blind and disabled women and children in four centers throughout Sana'a.

A similar center is in Taiz and a new branch soon will be established in Hodeidah. The association provides women and children housing, illiteracy classes and general education through curriculums printed in Braille, the reading system for the blind.

Later, the association helps integrate these women and children into schools and universities where they study alongside sighted people, as well as helping blind and disabled women find jobs.

After joining the organization, Jamila began studying subjects usually learned in first, second and third grades. Because of her motivation and determination, she completed these studies in only six months, whereas it normally takes students three years.

Afterward, Jamila continued her studies with the help of Al-Aqel, who pushed her to improve herself. “Fatima Al-Aqel was more than a mother to me. Every day, I thank God for bringing her into my life,” Jamila says.

Even after joining the association and coming closer to achieving her educational dreams, there were times when Jamila needed her family, but she says they chose not to bother with her, leaving her with the only family she knew – Al-Aman Association.

The same year she joined the association, she underwent an operation to permanently remove her eyes, which already were in very bad condition. “I spent two weeks at Fatima Al-Aqel's home until I recovered,” she said, a period of time that bound the two women even closer together.

Jamila achieves her dream

Jamila now is a sophomore at Sana'a University's College of Literature, after taking less than 10 years to complete grades one through 12 and start university. While she admits that university studies are a bit harder, she insists that she'll never give up. “I've made my dreams come true,” she proudly declares.

Once illiterate herself, Jamila now teaches other illiterate women Qur'anic studies at Mu'ath Bin Jabal School. “Every woman on earth should educate herself – even if she's 60!” Jamila states, adding that, “Women's education is the reason for societal development.”

Sabah's story

Another woman with an extraordinary story is Sabah Huraish, who struggled with her blindness until joining Al-Aman Association, which she said changed her perspective on life.

Sabah went blind at age 17 as a result of a brain disorder that left her not only blind, but also paralyzed. She visually recalls entering the hospital on her own two feet, then leaving it blind and carried in her father's arms.

Sabah says she used to pray to God to take her eyes, but just enable her to walk again. Her prayers were answered and slowly, over time, she regained the ability to walk, but she remained blind and deprived of what she calls her true passion – reading.

“Before I went blind, I used to escape from my cooking and cleaning chores to go read. It used to drive my mom crazy!” she recalled, laughing at her seeing past.

Thinking her blindness would be the end of her life, a friend later told her about Al-Aman Association for Blind Women. By joining, Sabah regained hope and eventually completed her high school education, graduating with an 82 percent average.

“It was the turning point in my life when I realized that I still could go on with my life normally,” she said, adding, “I finally was at peace with my destiny.”

Sabah didn't stop there, but went on to continue her education at Sana'a University, graduating with a psychology degree. Now Al-Aman Association's secretary-general, she helps other blind women integrate into society and fulfill their dreams.

She also married a partially blind man and had two children – both of whom can see. “There's nothing harder than not being able to see your children, but I always thank God because unlike many blind people, I once saw the sun,” Sabah says, “and for me, that's enough.”