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…members of the Society for the Blind bemoan garbage, flooding, security and financial issues
…feel as if they have been forgotten
By Lisa Hamilton
Garbage and an ever-present vagrant are the first set of things that one sees on their way to visit the Guyana Society for the Blind. For those without sight or impaired vision, they don’t need to see it to know that the conditions under which members of the Society are currently enduring are beyond what any human being would want for themself.
This month, Guyana and the Caribbean observe Blindness Awareness Month. For those at the Guyana Society for the Blind, while the period will be filled with a string of engaging activities, it’s not very easy to appreciate the occasion when it seems as if the rest of Guyana has forgotten about them. In a release to the media on May 12, 2021, the Society highlighted that, apart from the garbage situation, there are many issues crippling the organisation and obstructing its ability to provide a comfortable way of life for its members.
FLOODING AND SEWERAGE
The Village Voice News received first-hand feedback on this when it visited the Society on May 14. One of the first issues expounded upon was the matter of flooding. For the past two years, the Society has been affected by flooding even when there is limited rainfall. Though a number of attempts have been made to rectify the issue through remedial works, the problem still persists. “It’s been affecting me because it’s not nice to be bailing water out of the building two or three times a day but, once we have rainfall, that is what has been happening for the last couple of weeks,” said President of the Society, Cecil Morris.
Coupled with this, there is also a major sewerage problem whereby the sewerage system connected to the building is blocked and Guyana Water Incorporated (GWI) field workers have been unable to find the blockage or the plan for the area. Morris said: “Because of that when the rain falls the sewage overflows and with high tide, the water comes into the building and it’s not very nice water coming into the building. We got to keep bailing it out because you can’t allow it to stay in the building too long. It’s a real problem for us.”
FINANCIAL SUPPORT LACKING
Every year, Morris said that the Society only receives a subvention from the Government of $250,000. While there are other charitable organisations or businesses that make donations, this fluctuates and the Society must oftentimes be prepared to make do with what it has.
Morris said that should one examine the daily cost of running the organisation and ensuring that members are engaged in training, they would understand the dire situation. There are many activities that the Society would like to afford its members but the money simply is not sufficient to support the aspirations. “So, we’re appealing to people and to the Government to really do something in terms of the finances of the organisation,” he said.
WE KNOW IT’S THERE
When it comes to the unsightly garbage at the driveway to the Organisation, member and seasoned radio broadcaster, Julie Lewis, who was born blind, said that she doesn’t need to be able to see to know that something is terribly wrong. “Most people come in with taxis but I walked in today so I was able to physically encounter a lot of obstacles. Some feel like boxes, some feel like bottles. And then, of course, garbage being garbage, it builds up an odour which becomes a stench. That’s a major concern for ours and has been for decades,” she said.
She added: “People don’t seem to have any regard or maybe because they think you’re blind they don’t think that you will see the garbage but garbage, it’s something that doesn’t stay in a corner, it scatters and then, of course, it produces this stench. So, you will be aware that there’s garbage.”
OTHER ISSUES ABOUND
Apart from matters related to the Society, Lewis also highlighted issues regarding the moving about of a blind person in the Guyanese environment. Showing her cane which is bent at the very bottom, Lewis said that it became damaged after someone tripped over it. It can cost as much as 5,000 for a cane. Once a cane is bent, persons are advised against attempting to straighten it as this will break it. “Canes suffer from severe wear and tear, especially if you’re someone who uses them very often like I do. The wheels either come off, they grind down and become pointed and that can be dangerous because you can be walking with a pointed cane and it can run into your stomach,” she explained.
Speaking further about her experience out and about, Lewis said that there aren’t sidewalks in Guyana which cater specifically to the blind. Oftentimes vendors who use up the available sidewalk can force blind persons to walk at the edge of busy roadways which is dangerous. Added to these issues, the Guyana Society for the Blind has also highlighted its security concerns. It said that a number of blind persons have been robbed in the area over the past few months, both in the compound and on their way into the compound. It also noted that this security issue has been an ongoing one with no concrete solution from the authorities.
A FLICKER OF HOPE
On Friday, May 14, Minister of Human Services and Social Security, Dr Vindhya Persaud met with representative of the Society, Ganesh Singh. According to the Ministry, major improvement plans on stream for the disability community, especially as it relates to training, were discussed.
The minister also said that she would be looking to see what assistance her Ministry can give to as it relates to concerns about safety at the Society. Singh, also Programme Coordinator of the Guyana Council of Organisations for Persons with Disabilities, is expected to play a huge role in helping the Ministry determine the way forward regarding new efforts for persons with disabilities. “It was a very, very productive meeting and I was actually taken aback with the Minister’s vision for disability. It’s clear and in sync with what we want so I am optimistic and very excited to work along with this Ministry,” Singh expressed following the meeting,
Meanwhile, as the Caribbean Region observes Blindness Awareness Month, Morris reminds: “Blindness is something that could affect all of us because you might be seeing today and you’re troubling with glaucoma and, in the next two years, you have serious problems. So, I’m saying to people, you need to keep checking with your doctor about your sight to see how it’s going. You also need to understand that the help that you might give to the Society today or tomorrow, some way down the road might come in useful to you.” (Tune in to the Village Voice News Facebook Page on Sunday for an extended video interview with members of the Guyana Society for the Blind.)