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Turkey meets India

Turkey meets India

Selma and Claire from VIEWS Turkey went on an adventurous trip to India to get to know the school and supporting system for blind and visually impaired people. Their experiences showed that this project might go on and turn into a real intercultural exchange which may overcome many cultural differences. Find their catching story below:

“When the Turkish group was returning from the VIEWS Liege project in December 2011 with clearer ideas about international visits, Selma told me she wanted to travel to India. Online we found Fourth Wave Foundation (FWF), an Indian organisation doing interesting work with disabled people; so we started to write, then talk via Skype. There was no sponsorship; we paid our travel, and the accommodation would be cheap. It was good that we got our tickets from Istanbul to Bangalore with just once airline, because they have to care for disabled passengers in transit.

When we arrived, we had a 2 hour taxi drive to our ‘home’ in the rapidly setting tropical sun (yes the sun sets quicker near the equator). It was an interesting ‘audio-description’ activity, where I tried describing everything to Selma: the fields, palm trees, houses similar to those we have in southern Turkey, the giant Hanuman ‘monkey-god’ statues, the traffic, etc. She told me which sounds she noticed and this way we complemented each other’s information. We sometimes used a sound recorder to record characteristic sounds as well as taking photos; we want to develop this habit in future travels.

24 hours after we landed at the airport, we were at the train station starting a 15 hour journey north, half way to Bombay. We were going to stay in a small town, Dharwad, where FWF has an office that organises their work in village schools: FWF has carefully chosen Ministry of Education officials who support the idea of inclusive education, as part of the Five Stakeholder approach to bringing change. We visited 3 of these schools to meet the children, parents and teachers.
What enthusiasm! Selma had guessed right: we both attracted attention. Selma is blind, Claire is blond; although people were sometimes curious about her cane and how she used it, and they could be puzzled/ angry that no one was helping her, I was the one who was noticed, stared at, or even had my hair pulled (was it real?). Sighted people always focus on visible differences, and often don’t notice other characteristics.

Selma and I wanted to anchor the effect of ‘flash-visits’ like ours, an hour at a school, ten minutes in a class. How to make them more meaningful than "something different", short time entertainment? We suggested that the teachers ask all children to write "one thing they liked’ and "one thing that surprised them", and prepare a collection of impressions. This record can be made into a poster or put on a website. We stayed two weeks, as a pre-visit, first exploration to see what to prepare/plan for a longer stay.
It certainly takes time and energy to adapt; each person needs to revise expectations and develop new habits. For instance how to have a wash, in a bathroom without hooks for hanging clothes or towel? Answer: That was why there is the bar across the wall. You can hang far more than on one hook!
During our stay, we learnt about India, and FWF’s work. We visited 2 schools for the blind, and shared Tozzles (the Touch Puzzles we brought to Liege) and origami – we can’t sing, so it was important to be able to give something in exchange for all the music and singing that they gave us. We also visited a university and its disability unit; so many similarities that we can build on for future cooperation (already started online) and exchanges.

One sentence sums up the visit: on the 7th day, Selma said “I’ve learnt more in one week here than I could have done by studying 2 years at university”, the difference between a learning environment, and a teaching environment."

Claire Ozel and Selma Zengin