By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
Miracles do not come any greater than giving vision to the blind. The Nigeria Society for the Blind (NSB) at its Vocational Training Centre (VTC), Oshodi, Lagos deserves support and celebration for giving vision and mission to the blind. The fear that going blind amounts to the very end of life has been defeated, as I can attest to, after paying a visit to the centre. My friend, the distinguished journalist, Lanre Idowu, decided to celebrate his birthday at the centre on Friday, July 19, and took me along with a handful of the Young Men Christian Union (YMCU) from St Jude’s Anglican Church, Ebute-Metta, Lagos. It was a brave new world that one discovered at the centre that is adjacent to the Armed Forces Rehabilitation Centre, Oshodi.
The Nigeria Society for the Blind is a voluntary, non-governmental and not-for-profit organization established in 1955 under the charge of Justice Adetokunbo Ademola with the main objective of training and giving hope to visually handicapped adolescents and adults in Nigeria. The Vocational Training Centre is in its 56th year, having been founded in 1956, and well over 2,000 blind men and women have benefitted from the superbly-guided training. It is a testament to the success of the VTC that some of the graduates are now in gainful employment.
According to the rules of engagement, “The period of training is two years. Students with a minimum educational attainment of Primary Six do the Handicrafts course, while those with a higher standard of education and who show enough aptitude are trained in Braille Reading and Writing, Touch Typing, Telephone and Dictaphone Typing (audio typing) and Computer Training. Extra-curricular activities include Home Economics. The female trainees also do Home-craft, Knitting and Cookery. Counseling on the social effects of blindness is also given regularly.”
This way, the society prepares trainees to be self-employed, and equally solicits employment opportunities with organizations and governments where the skills learned could be put into effective use. The NSB needs help “to be able to give scholarships to undergraduates and post-graduate students in Nigerian universities.”
The centre has no subvention whatsoever from either the State or Federal Government. The class of people who go blind through unfortunate circumstances later in life and who are in dire need of rehabilitation with the support of philanthropists, corporate organizations, religious bodies etc. are given a new lease of life.
The Chairman of the Executive Council of the NSB, Mrs. Biola Agbaje is full of praise for Lagos State Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) who surprised the society with a visit on his birthday, June 28, 2012, made promises and “has delivered on all the promises.” In this light, “tuition fees for 60 students for 2013 has been paid through Lagos State Scholarship Board… the funds for the renovation of our State of Art Workshop have been provided by the Lagos State Government.”
The amiable administrator, Ms Ivy Bassey, iterates the needs of the centre thus: “Our Staff Quarters, Administrator Block, Fence, Gate and Classrooms are begging for renovation. The entire compound needs to be properly and totally landscaped. These renovation works will cost a whopping sum of 20 million Naira. We need sponsorship for local and overseas Staff Training Programmes.” The centre needs seed money to be set aside “for disbursement to our deserving trainees on graduation to provide them with credit facilities.” She informs that “this Micro-credit scheme has not been actualized because the banks we have approached seem to feel our money is too small for them to administer.”
Subscription to become a member of the NSB goes thus: N2,000 for students, N5,000 for annual adult dues, N50,000 for life subscription, and N250,000 for corporate bodies. One can donate to the society a dedicated amount every month. Also, a dying person can leave clear instructions so that his or her cornea can be given to the society to give sight to someone after passing. The maiden edition of the NSB Membership Day was held on Sunday, October 21, 2012 at VTC, Oshodi. The get-together was for all registered members of the society who had the privilege to bring along their families and friends. The VTC students performed drama and supplied music to make a jolly good day. Awards were given to supporters of the NSB, notably SNEPCO, Kakawa Discount House, Standard Chartered Bank, First Securities Discount House, Dupe Have a Bite, Sokoa Chair Centre, Cathedral Church of Christ Marina, MTN Foundation, Guobadia Foundation, Bible Socety of Nigeria, RT Briscoe etc.
Miss Chisom Anozie, who was posted to do her primary NYSC assignment at the centre, narrates in the NSB magazine published by the centre that she was full of sadness when she was posted there but ended up enjoying the VTC for setting her “on the road to a lifetime of illumination.”
The Annual Inter-House Competition held at the UNILAG Sports Stadium on April 4, under the distinguished chairmanship of Victor Gbolade Osibodu, Chairman of Vigeo Holdings Ltd and Chairman of Special Olympics Nigeria. The students competed for honours in 50 metres race, long jump, 3-legged race, walking race, rounder’s game, searching race, shot put, skittle game, tug-of-war, Tor Ball etc. According to the principal, Sola Ogunsiji, “The students were very excited and have had a change of thought of their self concept and worth.”
Miss Modupe Kafayat lost her sight in 2010 after graduating in Law from the University of Ibadan. She then enrolled in VTC in 2012 to learn Braille writing and reading, the use of the computer with the help of speech software and mobility etc. She subsequently performed excellently at the Nigeria Law School, Lagos Campus.
Chidozie Obianyo lost his sight to glaucoma in 2007 after passing out of secondary school and sitting for JAMB in the bid to study Medicine. He was made to stay at home for all of six years, almost giving up on life, until he got to know of VTC, Oshodi in November 2012 and was admitted into the centre in January this year. Now he has been able to travel from Lagos to Anambra State all on his own!
Miss Adesope Latifat Adeleye obtained an OND in Business Administration from Osun State Polytechnic, Ire, but, in her words, “on the morning of 30th December 2011 while going for my prayer, acid was poured on me by an admirer whose advances I had refused to acknowledge.” She lost both eyes, and after her discharge from LASUTH she found succor at VTC, Oshodi. She was able to travel home alone during the April break and intends to study Mass Communication at the university.
The library at VTC is a sight to behold, being the best of its kind in all of West Africa. Braille books are printed readily and we witnessed a printing by the hardworking librarian.
In short, after being at VTC, Oshodi, I discovered that I had been blind, and I was given new vision as I encountered the magnificent work being done there. Now I have reason to believe and see!
Uzoatu is a journalist and literary critic