Celebrating World Braille Day, January 4
Tens of thousands of blind people in developing countries are gaining greater independence, learning practical life skills and are taking their place in society through the ministry of Bible Societies and their partners. The provision of Braille Scriptures is at the heart of this work.
*Active Braille ministry in more than 50 countries, from Armenia to Zimbabwe
*Provides Braille Scriptures in around 200 languages
*Nearly 100 Braille Scripture booklets focus on different themes (eg HIV)
*Complete Braille Bibles available in around 40 languages
*A Braille Bible consists of about 40 volumes and weighs 40kg
*It costs at least US$600 to produce a full Braille Bible
“When I went blind at the age of nine my life became worthless,” recalls Salamata. “I wanted to die.”
Salamata, now 22, lives in Burkina Faso, a small country in West Africa. Around 250,000 people here are blind – a condition that leaves them isolated and dependent, condemned to a life of poverty. In some rural areas blindness is seen as a curse and blind people are shunned, sometimes even by churches.
This was Salamata’s experience. Until her mid-teens, she was unable to attend school or do anything for herself. But then she was given the opportunity to attend a Braille Literacy Centre set up by the Bible Society of Burkina Faso in the capital city, Ouagadougou.
Turned my life around
“It turned my life around,” she states simply. “I realised that I could do something with my life. I learned Braille, I met others like me and I learnt how to be independent. I even taught others in my village when I went home in the school holidays.”
Thousands of people like Salamata are benefiting each year from the Bible Society’s work and it has come to be recognised as the country’s leading organisation in improving the lives of blind people.
The government, which wants to integrate blind children into the school system, sends teachers to the Braille Literacy Centre to learn how to use Braille and meet the needs of blind children in their classes.
And it is thanks to the Bible Society that there is a Braille alphabet for Mooré – the most widely-spoken language in Burkina Faso. It published the Mooré New Testament in Braille in 2009 – the first ever Braille publication in this language.
In Brazil, where more that 580,000 people are blind, the Bible Society is reaching out to blind people, organising meetings and activities across the country and providing Braille Scriptures to everyone who wants them.
Not isolated but included
“We aim to ensure that people with visual disabilities are not isolated but are included in society,” says Emilene Araújo of the Bible Society of Brazil.
In 2002 it published the first ever Portuguese Bible in Braille, enabling blind people to read the Bible independently.
“I always had to ask someone to read the Bible out loud for me, and it was frustrating,” says Zivan Maria Carvalho. “But now I can read the Bible for myself. I can choose when and what to read and I can stop to reflect. I get emotional every time I read it.”
Click here to read more about the Braille ministry in Brazil.
Abandoned by her parents
Ten-year-old Daifa in Chinawas abandoned by her parents because she was born blind. Neglected and half-starved, she was adopted at the age of six by a home for the disabled. Withdrawn and fearful when she arrived, Daifa is now a happy child, brimming with enthusiasm and self confidence.
She has learned Braille and takes delight in reading out loud from the Braille Scriptures given to her by the China Christian Council and United Bible Societies.
The task is enormous
Hundreds of Braille Bibles are provided free of charge every year to blind people throughout China but the task is enormous: according to the World Health Organisation, China is home to 75.5 million people with visual disabilities, 90% of whom live in remote rural areas and are very poor.
“God is our father in heaven, just like a father on earth,” says Daifa, “and Jesus is my best friend.”
Daifa has big plans for her life: she wants to become a pastor because “the Bible says we must preach the Word to everyone”. She read this herself in her copy of Matthew in Braille.
Protection against sexual exploitation
In Ghana, in addition to providing spiritual support, Braille Scriptures are also helping young blind people, particularly girls, to protect themselves against sexual exploitation. With many experiencing rejection by family and society, they yearn for love and are vulnerable.
Recognising this, the Bible Society of Ghana is providing Braille Scripture workbooks that help young blind people recognise the dangers they face and show them how to take responsibility for their own lives and sexuality. The booklets are part of United Bible Societies’ HIV and AIDS education program, the Good Samaritan Program (link). The Bible Society also supplies Braille Bibles to schools for the blind across the country.
Helping them gain confidence
“These books are so important for our children,” says Mahela Narh, Head of the School for the Blind in Akropong. “It is clear to see that these are really helping them gain confidence. The Word of God is giving them light in the darkness.”
“It is truly wonderful to see how this Braille ministry, carried out by Bible Societies and partner organisations, is changing the lives of blind people across the world,” comments United Bible Societies General Secretary Michael Perreau.
“It is helping them become part of their communities instead of being isolated, giving them self-worth, equipping them with life-changing skills that help them to earn a living and it is giving them direct access to the Bible and its message of life and love for all.”