Dignity for the Blind is the new name for a self-help group who used to call themselves “The Blind Beggars Association”.
The group consists of about 60 families where the principal carer is blind. They meet regularly on Saturday mornings to pay in to a hardship’ fund –just a few leones each week- and this money saved can be used by them in the future, to cover funeral expenses, medical bills etc. We attended several Saturday morning meetings and the problems of daily living were shared with us.
Life for the blind or visually-impaired is extremely hard in a country like Sierra Leone, and especially for blind women and girls. There are high rates of unemployment and no social security to provide a safety net for vulnerable and marginalised members of the community. Government services are basic, and, although improvements are undoubtedly being made, there are still places where utilities and infrastructure are in a poor state of repair.
At present only a tiny proportion of blind people in Sierra Leone get any education or skills training, which leaves the blind with no alternative but to beg on the street. Moreover, the only way for many blind people to do this is by using children as guides. Roads and sidewalks are dangerous for sighted people let alone those unable to see: vehicles are driven with very little consideration for other road users or pedestrians many vehicles should not be on the road and there are potholes and open sewers, and posts, cables and other dangerous fixtures that can cause injury. The fact that children are used as guides means that their lives are blighted too: they miss out on schooling and grow up without education or training.
Some people are born blind, but most develop blindness as a result of parasite-borne diseases, vitamin deficiency or an infection or medical condition such as measles or diabetes. There is no social security so begging for money is the way a lot of blind adults support themselves.
The Makeni Trust Fund supports them by contributing to their childrens’ school fees.