In 1998, a 28-year-old blind German woman named Sabriye Tenberken founded a school for visually impaired children in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, with the help of her husband. She traveled across Tibet and seeking those in need and taking them to her school, bringing unheard of opportunity to the children.
Born in a small village in Lhatse County, Kyila graduated from Sabriye’s school. As a high-altitude plateau, Tibet receives powerful sunshine, which results in a high frequency of eye problems in newborn babies. To help even more blind children, Kyila opened her own school for them two years ago.
'They lost sight, but have beautiful minds.'
Sabriye Tenberken (right) (ZHANG LEI)
It has been years since Kyila lived at Langdun Street No.10, where the German-founded school for the blind is located. She now resides on a ranch in Xigaze along with three teachers, four supporting staff, and 21 children - of which 17 are blind. Kyila’s Qiqi Kindergarten is spread through a row of structures near the ranch’s exit which were formerly inhabited by cows.
In 2010, when Paul Kronenberg, Sabriye’s Dutch husband and an engineer, suggested Kyila transform the stables into her dream kindergarten, Kyila couldn’t hide her excitement: "What?!"
Kyila speaks fluent English. She was one of the top students in English at Sabriye’s school. Her favorite phrases are "why not?"and "so what?" In 2005, she went to UK for a year to study English with her classmate Nyima.
Before the UK trip, Kyila was timid and thought that sightless people in the West must possess much stronger inner strength. However, she found things different from what she expected. One of her sightless British friends never uses a walking stick. He always requires a companion to escort him out. "Why not use a stick?" Kyila curiously asked him. "If I use a stick, everybody will know I am blind," he explained. "I will feel shy." His answer shocked Kyila. "So what?" she retorted. "They will know you are blind with or without the stick. You’re holding onto someone’s arm the whole time!"
Kyila realized she is proud and rightfully so. "Yes, I am sightless, but so what?" she says. "I can speak English and Mandarin, read and write. And unlike most people, I can read and write in total darkness."
Her UK experience left her with greater confidence and independence. She founded the kindergarten, and began to seize her dream of providing early education to blind children. Qiqi Kindergarten opened on June 26, 2011. On that day, Kyila and her friends headed to the ranch from Lhasa, singing all the way. At the opening ceremony, when she was in the middle of giving a speech, she found her usual stoicism invaded by impending tears.
"I've had this dream for so many years. Suddenly, it is here."
In her first class, she asked her students - there were only eight then - about their dreams. Never having been asked such a question, the students didn’t know how to answer. However, several weeks later, they could answer confidently: they want to be teachers, translators, writers, and entrepreneurs.
"These kids lack sight, but they have beautiful minds," Kyila beams. "Their inner world is colorful."
A Beautiful Way to Get Together
Kids run through the courtyard, laughing and rolling around on the ground. Evidence of disabilities can hardly be seen. The students loudly recite things they learn in classrooms: the days of the week, the seasons, the months, key elements of Tibetan Braille, and the 26 letters of the Roman alphabet.
Kyila opens her email inbox and finds more than 300 new messages waiting. Her cell phone buzzes now and then, reminding her of new text messages. She guzzles three to four cups of coffee every day, a habit that stuck from her days in the UK.
During Kyila’s stay at the UK language school, her classmates were normal sighted people. She assimilated with them so well that teachers sometimes forgot she was blind. Once, a teacher asked Kyila to stand up and read from the blackboard. Kyila stood and blurted out something totally irrelevant. All of her classmates laughed. Kyila knows that the teacher didn’t do this on purpose, and she was brave enough to poke fun at herself.
But sometimes, others’ behavior does make her feel uncomfortable.
She often gets the biggest piece of cake. "I'm just blind, not hungrier," she sighs.
Once, when she asked where to get coffee at the airport, someone shouted: "Go that way!"
"I'm blind, but not deaf. I can hear."
Kyila feels that many "sighted" people don’t sufficiently understand the blind. She is frequently reminded of her parents forbidding her to leave the house as a child. "They didn't know how to treat the blind."
Thus, Qiqi Kindergarten also recruited four kids with normal sight. Some of them were orphaned by the Yushu Earthquake in 2010 in Qinghai Province, and some were enrolled by their parents due to slight physical disabilities.
"It is important to put blind kids and normal seeing kids together," Kyila insists. "They share and teach each other many things, which help the blind in many ways, especially with learning how to treat others throughout their lives."
During art lessons, the normal kids describe different colors to the blind. When all lights are turned off at night, the blind kids lead the sighted to the restrooms.
"It’s a beautiful way of getting along," comments Kyila. Even bigger dreams still await: her sights are now set on founding more kindergartens for blind children, not only in Tibet.
(Source: China Pictorial )