Ikilama (2nd right) with two beneficiaries of free cataract surgery by KBI

John Shiklam writes that a non-governmental organisation, Knowledge for the Blind Initiative, is helping in addressing the challenges of visually impaired persons in Kaduna

It was a day of joy for the virtually impaired when a non-governmental organisation (NGO), Knowledge for the Blind Initiative (KBI), visited their Kano Road residences in the heart of Kaduna metropolis.

Known as “Gidan Nakasasu” (house of the disabled), the place is a squalid environment where hundreds of destitutes, including lepers, the virtually impaired, the crippled and their children live under horrible conditions.

The camp is erected with corrugated iron sheets that have now become rusted, as shelter for them and their ever increasing population of children whose future seem very bleak as they cannot afford to send them to school.

The KBI main objective is to improve the living conditions of the virtually impaired by providing them with the requisite knowledge.

The NGO had visited the centre to educate the virtually impaired on personal hygiene. Though the target was virtually impaired people residing at the camp, but others at the camp also joined at the roundtable discussion aimed at providing them with basic health tips for environmental and personal hygiene.

Executive director of the KBI, Andrew Gani-Ikilama, said virtually impaired people face more challenges than other people with other forms of disability when it comes to health issues as they cannot see.

Mrs. Safia Ahmadu who spoke on the need for clean environment during the discussions, said clean surrounding promotes good health and urged them to keep their environment clean to avoid outbreak of disease.

She urged them to ensure that all wastes are put into dustbin as well as ensure that pots and utensils are not left lying about after cooking as this could attract rodents, thereby causing viruses that could lead to unhealthy situations.

She further advised them to clean gutters and avoid cooking where there is trash can or stagnant water as well as clean the surroundings of their dwindling places every day.

Also in her own presentation, Dr. Salamatu Akor enumerated tips for oral health which can promote good health, emphasising on the need for brushing the teeth twice daily with toothpaste or salt, in a situation where toothpaste is unaffordable.

She advised against smoking cigarettes and urged them to go for a regular dental check up. The need for regularly bath was also stressed, while men are to keep their hair short and women to plait or braid and comb.

Similarly they were told to ensure that finger nails, excess hair under the armpit and pubic area are trimmed while under wears and beddings are to be washed regularly.

At the end of the talks, they were all presented with some basic items including tooth brushes, toothpaste and soap to start off with the new knowledge gained on personal hygiene.

Ikilama said the KBI said was determined to improve on their lives through education and skills acquisition.

“What we have done today is to help our brothers and sisters to acquire knowledge that they can use to improve their lives. There is power in knowledge and today we focused on personal, oral and environmental hygiene. Our focus is to give knowledge for quality life. That is our target,” he said.

Speaking further, he expressed the hope that the virtually impaired will have the knowledge and the skills that will empower them to improve on their living condition.

He frowned at the filthy environment and the decaying structures that accommodate the destitutes, describing it as unfortunate.

He called on the government and public spirited individuals and organisations to come to the aide of the destitutes.

He disclosed that in the last three years, his organisation had reached out to 10,000 virtually impaired people with different activities.

“I am totally not happy with the environment which the blind and other physically challenged people live in.

“I personally will not live in this kind of buildings, but we are starting with what we can. We hope to impact positively on the environment and the buildings which they live in, giving available resources. We are looking up to a day when these people would be settled in their own homes, in a community and not secluded and excluded from the mainstream community,” he said.

According to him, working for the virtually impaired is a lifetime calling which he promised his late father who was virtually impaired from childhood and who he co-founded the KBI with.

“My father, the late Dr. Bitrus Gani-Ikilama who co-founded KBI was blind when he was a child and he made me promise that I will continue to help the blind,” he said.

Leaders of the virtually impaired, the crippled and lepers who were present during the enlightenment campaign expressed gratitude to Ikilama and his team for showing concern about their plight.

While lamenting the deplorable condition of the centre, they called on the government and wealthy individuals to help rehabilitate the centre as well assist in educating their children by building a school in the centre.

Ikilama, the founder of the KBI was the first blind child in Nigeria to be enrolled in primary school at the School for Blind Children in Gindiri, Plateau State in 1955. He was also the first blind boy to attend the Boys’ Secondary School in Gindiri. He was not born blind, he became blind at the age of five after contracting measles.

After his secondary education, Gani-Ikilama attended the School of Physiotherapy, Royal National Institute for the Blind in the United Kingdom.

He returned to Nigeria after completing his studies and practiced at Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital (ABUTH) in 1967, rising to the position of Head of the Department of Physiotherapy before he retired.

He was instrumental in the formation of ‘Tape Recording Services for the Blind’ in 1976, an initiative which was very successful and afforded blind people the opportunity to be educated.

In 1979, the organisation expanded its services to provide Braille production, guidance and counseling, consultancy, and later on vocational training. With the expansion, the name was changed to Hope for the Blind Foundation.

Over the years, the KBI has built a reputation for delivering crucial support and vital services to persons who have gone virtually impaired and their families.

These services include, Braille transcription and library, counseling, books on cassette, orientation and mobility training, craft skills training, scholarships, training and research through Hope Institute of Development and Research, and provision of medical and social care.

Andrew, a 1991 graduate of ABU, Zaria took over from his late father as the executive director of the KBI in 2001 and since then, he has been making every effort to keep the promise he made to his late father.

His experience as a stock broker and associate member of the Chartered Institute of Management has been quite useful in taking the foundation to higher heights, although funding has been a challenge.

Recently, the initiative assisted 30 people to recover their sights from cataract through surgery.

The surgeries carried out at National Eye Centre, Kaduna in collaboration with Ophthalmological Society of Nigeria, sponsored by the organisation and its partners who are committed to reducing blindness. Rehabilitation services are also provided for those that have gone virtually impaired.