By Arshad Abbasi

The lab has 10 computers for the blind students to learn the basics through hands-on exercises. More resources could help the center to upgrade the lab. Emrana Arshad

Only a decade ago, it was unimaginable for any blind student in Pakistan to read books and other course content independent of any audio aid. They were dependent on others for reading or they used to get their notes recorded on cassettes for listening. Sometimes it took weeks if not months to get the required reading ready to be able to go through it.

Blinds were deprived of a vast resource of knowledge as all that could not be recorded nor read out to them immediately. Here came computer with a solution that has brought a huge transformation in the lives of the visually challenged people. Now, anything is just a click away–yes by simply installing the talking software, the computer can deliver what was a miracle for them once.

Education for the people with disabilities-PWDs in terms of facilities and opportunities generally lacks in Pakistan and the situation is even more desperate in South Punjab. However, in this sorry spectacle, there is a ray of hope which is illuminating the path for the people with visual disability in Multan. Muhammad Bin Qasim blind welfare complex is run and managed by a trust.

The person behind the initiative of computer-assisted education for the visually impaired is Sadia Kermani, daughter of the founder of this welfare complex. She is dynamic and technology savvy.

She has the exposure which she is fully utilizing to bring in the use of new technologies that are available for the people with blindness nowadays. For this purpose, computer lab has been built in the school making sure that students are equipped with the new technological advancements and use of computer soft wares for blind people.

The center is named after her father Muhammad Qaim Khan Kirmani, who is himself a blind person. It was founded in 1979 and has successfully been enabling the blind people with basic skill and education to lead a normal life, which is evident by the presence of its past students in various fields of life where they are working and contributing to the betterment of the society.

Students show a lot of promise in acquiring the computer skills at an early age. Photo: Emrana Arshad

The welfare complex is running the school, serving more than 100 students providing them education through Braille, computer and various other audio aid systems coupled with trainings such as vocational and telephone operating. The school has free boarding and lodging. The school offers education till matriculation but provides full assistance to its students with their further studies.

The majority of the students are from the villages of South Punjab where the poverty rate is high and parents are unable to cater to the needs of their blind children. This welfare complex is a ray of hope for them, as it offers help to the needy parents as well.

Activities such as music, sports are also conducted. The blind baseball team from the complex has won a gold medal in Italy and it is the only place where blind students are being trained for playing baseball.

The music classes teach instruments such as Tabla and harmonium. Having listened to them makes one feel that there is so much hidden talent in these individuals who cannot see apparently but as a matter of fact can see beyond what others see.

Al Maktoom Braille library has vast collection of books for its students providing them with enriched knowledge through reading. These books are benefiting the students to gain more knowledge. The library has audio cassettes for both syllabus and pleasure listening (Books, novels, dramas and poetry) of Urdu, English, Saraiki and Punjabi.

All these items are hand made by the students of the center. Photo by Emrana Arshad

It has its training centre that includes a workshop, computer training centre, handicrafts, telephone operating course and photostat training courses. Trained individuals from this centre are earning their living in a dignified way and are proving an asset to the society for their hand skills and craft making abilities are unmatchable.

Like other welfare organizations, Muhammad Bin Qasim Centre has the problem of funding. It is run through local funding which at times proves insufficient for running the expenses of the complex as it offers hostel facility with mess and laundry to all of its students. There are almost 80 students and a staff of 30 to look after the complex matters. The shortage of funding reduces the introduction of innovative additions to the centre.

The school is not only educating the blind male and female children from Multan and its surrounding districts, rather it is spreading awareness that any sort of disability is not a curse or burden for family and society. The institution proves this fact practically by showcasing the talent of its alumnae who are living successful lives. For this purpose, there is a photo gallery cataloguing and exhibiting these success stories.

The centre also serves as a forum for the blind people from all over the country as it hosts events, conferences and seminars regarding the issues of disability in Pakistan in general and people with visual disability in particular. In this reference, annual sports mela stands out bringing participation from all over the country.

Muhammad Bin Qasim Centre is a shining example of education and welfare for the visually challenged persons in Multan and other districts of South Punjab. The institute has the mission and purpose which is admirable and appreciable on all counts and criteria.