¡Highly Commended:@Group B (under 25 years old)
Braille to a Bright Future
By Ms. Mini Juan
(20 years old, Philippines)

I once felt that being totally blind was like being trapped in a world of complete darkness. Being unable to see the tiniest ray of light, it seemed like there was nowhere to go, no one to share my life with, and nothing to look forward to. Gradually, however, I came to realise that hope was actually within my reach; blessings were there to be counted and to be grateful for. And, before I knew it, I was stepping out of the dark into a world so bright. Thanks to God, there was Braille! -- Since then, I have seen the light.

It was in a regular school where I was taught to read and write Braille by a special education teacher who was blind herself. She told me that by using Braille, blind people could actually read and write just as sighted people could. This information motivated me to learn.

I was glad to know that while my sighted class-mates were learning to read with their eyes and to write with pencil and paper, I could do so in a "special" way -- reading with my finger-tips and writing with a stylus and a slate enclosing a piece of Braille paper. Every dot I made was so precious to me that when I finally completed the Braille learning process, I felt such a sense of meaningful achievement. From then on, I began to appreciate the significance of Braille in my education.

With the help of my teachers, the textbooks were transcribed from print to Braille, thereby enabling me to study my lessons ahead of time. The examination question papers were also translated into Braille and this enabled me to work independently. Thus, by using Braille, I was able to obtain very good marks.

Besides helping me to be an exceptional student, Braille literacy also opened up many other doors to me. I was able to do what I had always loved doing -- enjoy reading all kinds of books on Science, History, Literature, languages and the Holy Scriptures. For me, reading has always been a great source of entertainment, knowledge, wisdom and inspiration.

We blind people in Philippines have very limited access to Braille books as most of them have to be ordered from the U.S.A. In spite of this, it is Braille that has enabled me to know a lot of things, to travel to different places, and to meet numerous people even though I could not see them at all with my blind eyes.

Being able to write in Braille has also given me a convenient means of expressing my views and feelings. Braille has been the key to such realisation. Back in my school days, I had spent much time writing fiction and essays about life and its realities. However, I only discovered that I could really write when I was in my first year of high school. I was chosen to take part in a feature-writing competition in our city and I was the only participant who was blind. I wrote my articles in Braille and they were transcribed into print by my teacher. By God's Grace I qualified in the regional and national levels.

Friendships have been developed and kept through Braille. Corresponding in Braille with blind friends in Philippines and abroad has brought me much pleasure, comfort and strength. We remain connected in strong bonds of friendship through time and distance with the help of Braille.

College life was not easy but it would have been much more difficult without Braille. I began to rely on the computer with a screen-reader in order to accomplish my written work; I also had a scanner and text-to-speech software to enable me to read books that were not available in Braille. Nevertheless, the accessibility of these gadgets did not cause me to set Braille aside. In fact, Braille came in handiest in note-taking during lectures. This was facilitated by the use of a portable note-taking machine which I would never have been able to operate without Braille.

Indeed, Braille is a wonderful blessing in my life. It has helped me to overcome many challenges and to survive many hardships as a blind person. Now I am thankful for the privilege of being able to impart the knowledge and practice of Braille to other blind people. It is my prayer that through Braille they may find hope and realise how blessed they truly are. Because of Braille, we can certainly "see" the light and there is a bright future to look forward to.

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