Visually impaired Uduak Esin, 20, who attend Queen’s College, Yaba, Lagos, hails from the Okobo Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State. She tells ALEXANDER OKERE how she lost her sight at 12 and how she is making the best out of her condition.
You were one of the beneficiaries of a skill acquisition programme on craft making held recently in Lagos. How did you develop an interest in the arts?
I developed an interest in May 2020. I wanted to learn a craft so I would be self-dependent instead of depending on my parents all the time. My interest in making such things started when a visually impaired woman, Mrs Christiana Akinrinmade, came to my school to talk about her centre, where she teaches people how to make footwear and bags. After that, I contacted her to get more information. She gave me the information I needed, and I went ahead to learn.
Were you bothered that you couldn’t see the things you were learning how to make?
No. I was encouraged by her because she is also visually impaired. I thought if she could do it, I could also do it. The first day I was given materials to work on, I wondered whether I would be able to create anything. I couldn’t get the first step she taught me easily. But I got to learn it gradually. I have made a lot of bags and shoes. I sold some of them and I will do more.
Were you born with visual impairment?
How did you lose your sight?
It happened in 2012 on my way back from school. I was 12 years old at that time. As I was returning from school, I noticed that I could not see clearly. Some people around took me to the hospital, and I was treated for malaria and typhoid. I was discharged but, subsequently, my eyes got itchy and watery.
Did you return to the hospital?
Yes. I was told I had glaucoma. But the doctors said I couldn’t undergo surgery because it had got to the worst stage.
How did you feel about that?
I was not happy at all. In fact, I wanted to commit suicide. But I was encouraged by family and friends who stood by me. Despite my condition, I still have the hope that I can do things sighted people can do. I can make bags and shoes, which many sighted people cannot do.
How did you adjust to living without your sight?
My family has been there for me. I have two siblings. My mother cried day and night when doctors told her that I had gone blind. It was not easy coping without my sight until someone told my mum about a special school, Pacelli School for the Blind and Partially Sighted. When I enrolled there, I started adjusting to my situation. When I started using braille in 2016, I didn’t know I would be able to use it to read and write. Then I met a friend who taught me the alphabets in braille, and she encouraged me to stay focused and learn. I don’t depend on my mother to do things for me. I wash my clothes by myself. I cook and do other things by myself.
It is common for Africans to see blindness as a form of spiritual attack. Did your parents also see it that way?
No. But some people said since my parents tried to find a medical solution and it didn’t work out, they should opt for spiritual solutions. They advised my parents to take me to churches but my mum said if it was God’s wish for me to see again, I would.
How did the loss of your sight affect your relationship with friends?
I lost some friends. When I started having the problem, I was not in Lagos. I was born in Akwa Ibom but relocated to Lagos in 2013 due to my condition. Some sighted people think blindness is a disease they can easily contract. So, some of them are afraid of making friends with people living with disabilities.
How did you get to Queen’s College?
Before I became blind, I was in Senior Secondary School 1 but was admitted into a class called ‘rehab’, which is for people who became blind in secondary school and beyond. In that class, we were taught how to read and write in braille. We were also taught how to use typewriters and computers. When I left Pacelli School for the Blind, I was advised to return to secondary school if I wanted to further my education. So, I was posted to Queen’s College, where I started from SS1 in 2018.
Were you enrolled in a special class?
It was not a special class.
Are there visually impaired pupils in your class?
Yes. There are about 20 pupils in the school who are visually impaired, but three of them are my classmates. I am not in the school’s boarding house because I’m allergic to dust and smoke. I prefer going to school from home. I usually take the school bus.
How would you describe your relationship with your sighted classmates?
Some of them are not friendly. They don’t like rendering help to special students. We, who are visually impaired, use recorders in class and a laptop for note-taking. So, I plead with my sighted classmates to lend me their notebooks or dictate to me to type my notes. But some of them decline and tell me they are busy, even when they are not.
Do you face other forms of discrimination from sighted students at the school?
Yes. People will definitely mock you or look down on you when you are not like them. However, I don’t allow that to weigh me down. I remember an incident that happened in class in 2018, at Queen’s College. In school, we make use of laptops to take notes because the teachers there can’t read in braille. My laptop was in my bag, which was on my locker. I put it there to prevent someone from stepping on the laptop and damaging it.
Then, a girl who wanted to pass in front of me, but didn’t tell me, started pushing my locker. If I had not held the bag tightly, it would have fallen to the ground. I told her she should have said she needed some room to pass and that I would demand a new laptop if she broke mine. But she accused me of bragging about my laptop because special students like me were allowed to bring laptops to school.
I thought it would end there, but soon after; she punched me in the eye. I could not go to school for more than a month because of that. I have also been called names, especially in the compound where I live.
You said your school doesn’t have special teachers. How has that affected learning for you and your colleagues?
It is affecting my interest in the sciences. I am poor at mathematics because we don’t have special teachers to teach us mathematics using braille. The government needs to do something about it because it’s not really easy for us to learn with the sighted pupils. During mathematics lessons, I usually sleep when the teacher starts solving mathematical problems. But there is a teacher we usually rely on to teach us how to solve mathematical problems.
Have you made any complaint to the school authority?
In my school, we can’t complain directly to the school authority. We have to go through our resource teacher who can write a letter to the school authority. We told her, but I don’t know whether the letter was written and sent. I would really love to specialise in the sciences, but I can’t do that because I’m visually impaired. If the government can provide the equipment needed for us to participate in the sciences, it will be good for us.
How do you cook by yourself when you cannot see?
I can feel where the stove, pots, and other things are. I know the ingredients when I feel them with my hands. Visually impaired people make use of their sense of touch.
What is the best way to interact with visually impaired persons?
For me, when I need help, I ask for it. When I get help, I try to know the name of the person who helped me. I also introduce myself and start a conversation from there.
What do you want others to know about you?
I am a friendly person.
What is your aspiration?
I want to study Mass Communication and Music. I don’t know how to play a musical instrument yet, but I can sing. I wanted to be a medical doctor, but I can’t be a doctor again.
I can’t because I can’t see it. I know I can become one if I go to a good school, but the right equipment is not available in Nigeria.
Do you ever worry about acceptance for visually impaired persons like you in society in the future?
I don’t really worry about that. I will take things as they come.