Dreaming Big Dreams: A School for the Blind in Tibet

Sabriye Tenberken speaking to clients of the Carroll Center for the Blind on Wednesday
Sabriye Tenberken speaking to clients of the Carroll Center for the Blind on Wednesday

This is an introduction to a new book and to its author. It is also an introduction to an extraordinary woman, who lost her sight due to Retinitis Pigmentosa, and to her partner. Together they make big dreams – very big dreams indeed – come true. Her story is a wake-up call to all of us who have lost sight over years and sometimes fear becoming useless!

Sabriye Tenberken was already legally blind when she attended the University of Bonn. She studied languages including Tibetan and discovered that blind people in Tibet could not read or write because there was no Tibetan braille. So she created the braille code for Tibet, and had it accepted by the authorities. But there were no schools in Tibet where blind children could learn.

So Sabriye, aged twenty-seven, set out for Tibet and started a school for the blind in Llasa, the capital. It was very tough going – everyone was against her. Then Paul Kronenberg, who had been working for the Red Cross and was interested in design, marketing and fund-raising arrived. They took on the problems as a couple and together succeeded.

The book is titled For the Benefit of Those Who See: Dispatches from the World of the Blind. The author is Rosemary Mahoney and it was published on January 14th by the Hachette Book Group.

Rosemary Mahoney has written a book that needed to be written. She exposes her own fear of blindness and her fascination with it – a combination she shares with half the world! Her book documents the stupidity and cruelty blind people have endured through all ages and all cultures. It then showcases Sabriye and Paul’s work with blind children in Tibet, and young entrepreneurs from developing nations in India.

Some parts of this book might not be easy reading for someone in the middle of shock and grief over vision loss. There are graphic descriptions of eye surgery, and ways blind eyes can look if left untreated. They also give intimate descriptions of young blind people who have been neglected and have developed idiosyncratic behaviors. But throughout the book there is a respect and admiration for what people with every disadvantage can survive and build on, and what the other four senses can deliver when sight is not a big distraction.

Rosemary is a professional writer, who was sent to meet Sabriye and Paul by O, The Oprah Magazine, and was so impressed by what a clear mental vision and endless perseverance can achieve, that she determined to write a book about their work. She returned to stay at their school in Tibet and new institute in India as a volunteer in order to discover how such a big, almost unbelievable, dream could succeed.

Rosemary has full sight herself, indeed she says she is maybe a little obsessed with sight. But her mother contracted polio, and Rosemary’s thinks her interest in and empathy for disability comes from watching her mother cope with the physical efforts and social stigma of her crutches and leg brace.

In the end this is an inspiring story of Sabriye and Paul, and the management team at the school in Tibet – the young blind adults leading the blind children towards active, money-earning lives.

Reading the Book

At present the book is only available in print and as a Kindle edition. (This can be downloaded onto a Kindle app on a smart phone and read with large print and good contrast, or with the Voiceover screen reader on iPhones and iPads.) Other versions – an audio book, an electronic version, a braille version – are all promised, but no dates yet.

Have you read For the Benefit of those Who See already? Please tell us what you think of it.

 L. to R. Paul Kronenberg, Rosemary Mahoney and Sabriye

L. to R. Paul Kronenberg, Rosemary Mahoney and Sabriye

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