THE St. Lucia Blind Welfare Association (SLBWA) is calling on St. Lucians to open their hearts, wallets and purses and give freely to assist it’s cause and to keep crucial programmes on-stream for the sake of the 2000-plus totally blind St. Lucians on island — and thousands more who are visually impaired.
The call for financial assistance will be more forcefully made through the annual Telethon this coming Friday (May 18) hosted by the association in collaboration with McDowell Broadcasting Service (MBC) and Real FM.
The Association has no financial target in mind for the telethon, as noted by its president Glen Simon, who underscored the serious financial problems it is in by stating that the more funds it could attract the better it would be for the Association, which has had to suspend several of its programmes due to financial constraints.
“Anything you can give will be appreciated,” Simon said.
‘Sighted Today, Blind Tomorrow – Save the St. Lucia Blind Welfare Association’ is the telethon’s theme, which Simon described as relevant after giving examples of sighted persons who have lost their sight through accidents, diseases and what-have-you.
But the telethon is not only to raise funds for the Association, as the Association plans to take advantage of the publicity it is given, to show what some of its endeavors have gone into and what St. Lucians can do, aside from contributing funds to save it.
A present thorn in the side of the Association is the dissatisfaction emanating from within — from a few blind and visually-impaired members.
This group (and others like them) is what the Association was formed to look after — a mandate, which they say, is not being met by the present hierarchy of the Association.
The group has quite a lot to say about the Association — including not knowing who its president is — something Simon promises to rectify as soon as possible, seeing that he has just got into the post and does not know every nook and cranny of the Association.
The rebel group, at a meeting amongst themselves last Saturday, said that decisions were being made by an individual within the Association that could ‘make or break’ it.
“We are at a point where we cannot take it anymore. The Association does not belong to one man,” the group noted in unison.
Complaining group members claimed that too many of them live in deplorable conditions to the point where they feel that the Association, which was formed to enable them to improve their conditions and provide a way to maintain themselves, seems to be failing them.
However, Anthony Avril, the Association’s Executive Director, feels that the Association, over the years, had fulfilled many of its mandates, even to the point where many of the blind and visually impaired complainants had benefited tremendously from the programmes and initiatives of the Association aimed and designed just for them.
Avril points to the schools where visually impaired children have been integrated in the regular school system, sitting side-by-side with their sighted peers and being educated.
“That represents a quantum leap. Think of it. Children with vision impairment and those totally blind, receiving their education side-by-side with their sighted peers,” he said.
“Yes, we have difficulties because of limited resources. We cannot afford to have the number of officers needed to provide the level of coverage you would like but we are not giving up. We continue to empower community caring groups. We are conscious there are people around the island in need of our services and everything that we can do to try and assist them to the best of our abilities we will do,” he added.
The disgruntled group wants some of the employment-creating schemes that the Association once engaged in — like the mop-making initiative, basketry, chair-making and other initiatives — to be re-introduced to create employment.
But the Executive Director doesn’t see it that way.
According to Avril, “We have moved away from relying only on crafts as a means of employment for blind and vision-impaired persons. We believe they should be exposed to a variety of opportunities.
“We try to meet their varied employment needs and by that we have managed to venture into areas where St. Lucia would be surprised.
“We have collaborated with Sunswept Resort and managed to train and employ three therapists — two totally blind the other with low vision.”
He believes agriculture is another area with ample employment opportunities for the blind and visually impaired.
“This is quite significant. We want to take that and broaden that. In agriculture and the environment we see great possibilities for employment for the blind and vision-impaired,” Avril said.
But Avril’s words are not resonating with the disgruntled members, who definitely don’t see things his way.
They want to know when last a comprehensive evaluation was made of their Association, what is the employment ratio of the population of blind and visually impaired persons in the country, how many of the blind and visually-impaired population are unemployed and why, how many blind and visually-impaired children of school age are presently receiving formal education — and how many are not receiving formal education.
“Enough emphasis is not being placed on blind or visually impaired persons,” said a leading member of the group.