May 7, 2021

Hello, my name is Kevin Irakoze, I am from Gitega, Burundi and I am a 4th year PhD student in Philosophy. It is a great pleasure to run the project Social and Academic Integration for Visually Disabled Youth this summer in Gitega. Disability in general, and visual disability in particular, is a great hindrance to education for Burundian youth. The project takes this realization as a starting point and seeks to support visually disabled high school students at Lycée Notre Dame de la Sagesse. The school, though a regular high school, started an initiative whereby students with various disabilities (mainly speech, hearing, and vision) can attend classes with other students. Life in the classroom is a rather beautiful one: sign language interpreters in classes, braille instructors copying student notes, etc. Heretofore visually disabled students had access only to a special school which often ended early and left the students with no option for the continuation of the studies. Not so beautiful an image. However, despite the high school’s efforts, behind the wonderful picture of diversity in the classroom lie difficulties that keep the disabled students behind their classmates insofar as various aspects of education are concerned. Among these one can cite the lack of sufficient essential materials, including slates and styluses the students use to take braille notes, or the absence of a braille or audio library for the students to read or listen to books. This project seeks to address some of these difficulties.

As I prepare the first steps of the project implementation, I am filled with gratitude and excitement. Gratitude, first, to the Davis Projects for Peace and Mrs. Kathryn W. Davis for generous provision of the funds and, secondly, to International House for continued support and guidance in the process. And excitement in anticipation of the impact that the project will have on its beneficiaries, the students.

Thinking of the pandemic that we are currently living I reflect on how the current world situation affects the project. In the original plans, I hoped to purchase most of the need material (e.g. computers, braille embossers) from the US. But the impossibility of that now, as I sit in Burundi, call for creativity in securing the needed materials locally in a way that still satisfies the goals of the project as planned. Some part of this week was spent in an initial assessment of the availability of these needed items or of appropriate replacements when needed. Additionally, as the implementation of the project involves other actors, I have been setting up meetings with relevant collaborators. These include the authorities in charge of the school that the students attend and merchants. I look forward to the next couple of months to see how the project will turn out.

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