Obinna Odogwu, Abakaliki
These are not the best of times for the visually impaired students of Special School for the Blind in Opefia, Izzi Local Government Area of Ebonyi State. The students and their teachers are sad because according to them, they have been abandoned by both the government and the society to suffer.
They are particularly unhappy, not only because they are grappling with the challenges associated with their visual impairment, the society appears to be too economical with its offer of kindness.
At the moment, they are grappling with so many challenges some of which are hunger, lack of care, poor learning facility, unfriendly environment, discrimination, and others.
Some of the teachers complained that the government turned down their request for employment. They lamented that even though some of them have degrees, every effort to secure government jobs did not yield fruit.
The Education Review gathered that some of these teachers are casual staff in the school and are only paid paltry N10,000 every three months plus N3,000 stipend for transport for the whole one term making it N13,000.
When broken down, each of the casual staff goes home with a pitiable sum of about N4,333 every month.
These students and their teachers, during a recent graduation ceremony staged for three graduating sets of the school, literally opened a book of lamentation on some of the challenges they face in the school.
The library of the school, according to them, is not well equipped with educational materials designed for the visually impaired students. There is also a lack of electricity in the school as it is not connected to the public electric power source.
The Education Report further gathered that to power some of their gadgets such as a computer, and few other electronic gadgets which aid their learning process, the generator is usually switched on temporarily considering the cost of fuel.
To be fair, the school has recorded appreciable improvement in the area of infrastructural development courtesy of the state government.
But the pathetic situation in the school, however, was captured by its principal, Rev. Sis. Rose Oguegbe, while fielding questions from newsmen during the graduation ceremony held in the school premises.
“It is not easy for the visually impaired students”, Oguegbe lamented; “because some of their parents say they have not even finished taken care of those who see let alone training the blind ones.”
“But we have been helping them. Many of the blind students who passed through here are at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN); Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka; Lagos State University (LASU), Colleges of Education, and others. So, they are doing well.
“So, many who have graduated from the university have nothing doing. They still come to us. Some of them, we engage them here to teach others and we give them just stipends.
“At the end of the term, we give them N10,000; that is, after three months. We also give them N3,000 for transportation to their homes after each term but they feed here. At the end of the term we just give them the N10,000 to go for the three months.
“Many students don’t pay, so we source for money to feed them, keep them and make them happy here. The government is trying in the area of infrastructure but they should pay special attention to the welfare of the students. The government should look into the issue of mobility for primary school; they should provide their needs in the boarding system.
“Universal Basic Education Board (UBEB) used to supply typewriters and other educational materials but from 2010 to date, they have not given us anything for the classroom but structures, they are giving.
“About three of them came last September to be enrolled in our school and we told them that the boarding system is not free, ‘you have to bring something’.
“We thought they went back to look for money and to date, we have not seen them. So, if the school is free; no payment of feeding and others, you will see the school filled to its capacity.
“The last results of our students studying at various universities across the country, one of them had second class honours at UNN. All our students are doing very well outside and here.
“The sighted ones do help them. They read for them because we get a tape recorder for them. The sighted students dictate notes and literature for them. The visually impaired students listen to tapes and that is how they read because we cannot provide brail papers again for them because it is very expensive. So, what we do is to give them a tape recorder to tape and later listen to it.
“In the primary section, we have about 28 visually impaired students. In the secondary section, they are 29 and all together, they are 57 in number”, she narrated.
Giving an insight into the school, Rev. Sis. Oguegbe said: “I have been in this school since 2002. I started with primary and we graduated to Junior Secondary, from Junior Secondary to Senior Secondary now.”
“We have graduated 6 sets of SS3 students. So, the school has been doing well with the help of the government also.”
One of the casual staff, Mr. Emmanuel Uguru, a graduate of Sociology and Anthropology from UNN could not secure job and as such, returned to his alma mater, Special School for the Blind, Opefia, where he receives the paltry sum of N10,000 and N3,000 respectively as salary and transportation allowances every three months.
Though the amount is very meager, he said that he is happy teaching his visually impaired colleagues.
Uguru said: “I studied Sociology and Anthropology. I discovered there is a need to help my fellow blind students and that is why I decided to return to this school to help them out. I have the same issues with them and I know how to handle them.”
While appealing to the state government to provide studying equipment like brail-machine, typewriting machines, and other teaching equipment and materials, Uguru also appealed for the payment of the students’ tuition and feeding fees.
Also speaking, another teacher in the school, Mr. Friday Oyibe, who also graduated from the school, said that he could not further his education because of a lack of funds.
Oyibe said that he had written to the government for financial assistance to enable him to get tertiary education but his request was not granted. He said, however, that he still desires to go to the higher institution of learning.
“I just finished my secondary education here in this school and I don’t have money to go further. I wrote a letter to the government for assistance but they did not do anything for me. So, I decided to be teaching with my O’ level in this school. I teach them Igbo Language,” he said.
Some students of the school who spoke to newsmen lamented that feeding was usually difficult for them. In fact, they lamented that they were suffering from starvation.
Favour Onele, one of the students said “some of the challenges we face in this school are our feeding fees, we are paying for feeding and our parents don’t easily afford them because it is too high. Some of us dropped out of school because of the feeding fees.
“We have one of them, Lawrence from Izzi here who just dropped because his parents couldn’t afford his feeding fees. Some of us that are still in the school owe huge amounts of money and would have been sent home or dropped out if not the kind-heartedness of our principal.
“We don’t have a clinic and adequate medical attention. If you are suffering from any health challenge, you must move down to the small market in this community and it is not conducive for us. They only give drugs without examining the health condition of the patient before giving the drugs”, she lamented.
Another visually impaired student, Ogharu Ikechukwu, corroborated Onele but added that lack of mobility; food, educational aids, and health clinic among others have caused them setbacks in their studies.
Ogharu who appealed for a school bus to be given to his school lamented that trekking long distances to and fro the school and in the town during major events have exposed them to dangers such as accidents and diseases.
The Senior Prefect of the school, Maduabuchi Igboke, made a passionate appeal to the Ebonyi State government seeking free education for his colleagues.
He said that he was not happy that the school library has not been upgraded
since the establishment of the school in 2002. He lamented further that they have been using school syllabus published in the 1980s.
Igboke who appealed to the state government to fence their school for security purposes also appealed that the rights of visually impaired persons should be legalised to enable them to seek redress in court in the event of such rights’ violation especially considering that Nigeria is a signatory to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights treaty.
Regardless of the teething challenges being faced by these students and their teachers, the school community rolled out the drums recently to celebrate three of its own who graduated after years of a rigorous academic exercise.
Three of the graduating students are Chidera Ozoemena Emmanuella, Eke Virginia Oluchukwu, and Okwuegbu Cherechi Joel.
The graduates who were happy that they have successfully concluded their academic programmes in the school, showered encomiums on their principal and their teachers for their efforts.
One of them, Chidera Ozoemena said: “I am very happy because it is not easy to graduate as a visually impaired person. I thank God for His mercies and I also thank our teachers for their understanding of our status.”
On her part, Eke Virginia Oluchukwu, while narrating some of the challenges she faced, said that she wishes to further her education as she would want to study Mass Communication in the higher institution.
Oluchukwu said: “The school is okay and the teachers are all trying. They make sure that the visually impaired are properly taken care of. We have challenges especially in terms of recording notes because we do use the recorder to record our notes.
Also speaking, Okwuegbu Cherechi Joel, a 21-year-old from Agbaja in Izzi Local Government Area of the state, who also praised their teacher, lamented: “One of the major challenges we face is that the school is not fenced. We are always afraid of an attack by external forces whenever we are in the classroom learning.
“I want to further my education and I want to study Political Science education. I love politics and I want to go into it so that I can lead people. I like leadership and I want to go into it.
“I want to go into it so that whenever I am elected into any position, I will make sure I do well. I will treat everybody equally and deliver good governance to the people if I find myself in any position of authority”, he stated.
Meanwhile, during a workshop earlier organised for the students, Chief of Staff, Government House, Abakaliki, Dr. Emmanuel Offor, told the students and their teachers that the state government has not forgotten them.
Offor said that the government was planning to float scholarships and also provide other incentives for the students and their teachers.
“It is not as if you have been forgotten. This government is doing everything possible to support your students and improve your conditions and that is why it is holding this programme to be able to get your problems”, he responded after listening to their comments.