Runner-Up

"Achieving Success with Braille"

Ms.Wacih Kurnaesih (50) Indonesia

The blindness that has accompanied me since birth differentiates my life from those of my parents and siblings.The schools I went to,my social environment,my job,all are different?but,at least,in my mind,they are better.I left behind my home village and all that I adored when I was seven years old to go to a special school for the blind in Bandung about sixty kilometers away?a distance that seemed great back in the early 1960's.It is in this city that I have grown up,completed my education,found a job and lived my married life until today.

To live far away from home as a child was not an easy experience.I missed many things,but what I missed most was my mother's stories before going to bed.At the same time,I always remembered what my mother told me in her efforts to persuade me to go to the special school."You will be able to read stories on your own," she used to say.Indeed she was right.The school had a library that kept a good number of Braille children's books.My desire to read the books motivated me to master Braille quickly.I still remember very well the first book I borrowed from the library?"Pinocchio." I enjoyed it so much that I read it over and over again.I even took the book home during one school holiday and read it to my peers in the village.They were impressed,not only by the story,but also by the fact that I read Braille,a writing system that they could not read.Some of them asked me to teach them how to write Braille,which I did,and this gave me a feeling of self-worth.To further place me in the centre of their attention,I designed "paper money" with Braille numerals (using my slate and stylus) to mark the values.We played "buy and sell" with them.I remember how important I felt as my playmates had to depend on me to check the value of their "banknote."

Coming back to school after the holiday,my fourth-grade teacher asked the class to write an article about our holiday experiences,and then we had to read our work to the class.I was the last one (of the five pupils in the fourth grade) to read mine,and,as soon as I finished,the teacher said,"Isn't she the queen of money?" My classmates applauded in agreement.

My next success with Braille was made when I was in the first year of high school,an ordinary high school.I wrote a short story as part of a literary event organized by the school.A classmate helped to transcribe the story into print.A journalist who visited the exhibition found my short story interesting and asked for my permission to publish it in the Suara Karya Daily.It was published and the newspaper paid me! It was indeed a very nice surprise.For the first time in my life I earned my own money,and this motivated me to learn more about literature.

Upon finishing high school,I went to college to take up Indonesian literature.Here,in addition to its obvious usefulness,I also used Braille to win friends among my classmates.Out of their curiosity,they asked me to write letters of the alphabet on pieces of paper,or their names on their notebooks,which helped me to win friendship.

After graduating from college in 1979,I applied for a teaching job and I was appointed as an Indonesian teacher in the special school for the blind that I went to as a kid.Here I have found a great deal of satisfaction in teaching Braille to many blind children.

One year later I married and started living a real independent adult life.Again,I found Braille very helpful for our daily living activities.My husband is also blind.To easily identify different jars in which we kept sugar,salt,coffee,tea,etc.,we affixed Braille labels to the jars.We also marked valuable papers such as certificates with Braille for the same purpose.

My literary ambition found its first major outlet when a chance came for me to take part in a children's story writing contest in 1983 organized by the Directorate of Primary Education for special school teachers nationwide.My husband helped me to transcribe the Braille manuscript into print by typing it with his regular manual typewriter (computer for the blind was not yet known in Indonesia at that time).I sent the manuscript to the selection committee in Jakarta,and a few months later came the announcement that I won the first prize.Another opportunity came three years later,and again,I won first prize.This second contest was particularly memorable because I had to take our second son Sendy (who was only a few months old) to Jakarta to receive the medal and the prize money.The two stories were published by two different publishers,and they have been added to the collection of children's books in school libraries all over Indonesia.

For these achievements,and for the ease of many daily living activities that I have enjoyed,I owe Louis Braille who has made it possible for blind people all over the world to have access to the world of letters.

Affiliated Organization: Treasurer,Simpay Bakti,a cooperative established by Pertuni,West Java

Educational Background: Attended Primary School for the Blind,Bandung

Graduated from IKIP Bandung with a Bachelors Degree in Teaching,1994

Career: Teacher,Special School for the Blind,Bandung

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