Guests from Abroad

Students with Fanny in front of the school In April, we received our first guests from abroad. After a presentation in Germany, I met Fanny and Ralph who are active in international cooperation for the support of the blind. Following an interesting exchange of ideas and experiences, Fanny and Ralph accepted my invitation to visit Bats in Action in Brazil. Below an abstract of their report:
“When my partner and I, Ralph, followed the invitation of our local association for the blind for a presentation about a project for the blind in Brazil on February 22nd of 2016, we didn’t imagine that this would not only broaden our horizons, but also get us out in the big wide world. But this is what happened. We got so interested in the report of Anja Pfaffenzeller about her work with Bats in Action in the northeast of Brazil that, about 6 weeks later, we traveled to Brazil in order to spend two weeks and get a first-hand impression of the work of Bats in Action. (…)”
“‘The Bat’s Cave’” is a small house with a living room, 3 bedrooms, a small kitchen and a bathroom, which is a toilet and a shower. In each bedroom, there are several bunk beds. Classes take place in one of the rooms, in addition there is an external classroom in the village library, 5 to 10 minutes walking distance. (…)”
“Moitinga is located a little outside the city center. This means, if students want to go shopping, they need to walk about 20 minutes on rural roads take a bus to reach town, find the supermarket, get assistance for shopping and then go the same way back again. This is part of the normal every day challenges, as well as cooking, washing dishes and clothes. All students receive support to learn the skills they need without any pressure of time. But for sure, nobody will do things for them, definitely not. If small Wiliany loses her soap again, she will need to look for it by herself, no matter how long it takes. During our stay, we helped with English classes for adult students. In addition, they learn Braille, their signature and to use the computer. (…)”
“If I need to summarize my impression of Brazil, I would call it the country of contradictions. We experienced true faith, but also fake religiousness. We had dinner with a student and his family in one of the most expensive restaurants of the region, but also had lunch in a simple house in a favela. We met generous and happy people, but we were also warned to be careful with our money at the bus stop. First of all, we got to know an ambitious project of the blind for the blind. It was very interesting to learn about the situation of blind people in Brazil in the city and in rural areas and to be able to contribute to the activities in the project.”
Fanny and Ralph observed a lot and gave us valuable feedback. The outside perspective helps us to reflect on our activities and improve our work. We are looking forward to more guests from abroad.
Fanny says: “So, who is adventurous, get in touch with the Bats and go to see them in action! For sure, they don’t bite.”

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A Visit Home

Once a year, I travel to Germany to meet my family, but also to inform friends and supporters about the work of Bats in Action in Brazil.

I am now on my flightb ack to Brazil and I am grateful for the time spent with my family, the meeting with old and new friends as well as the encouragement and support I received throughout my journey.

audience project presentation in Heideck 2016In my home town Heideck I had a presentation about the Bats in Action School with an audience of around 50 people. Many of them have known me since my childhood and now they support me in many different ways. I met school children, elderly ladies and a Catholic women’s group. My big thank you goes to all of them for their support, not to forget the local Lions Club that continuously supports Bats in Action. The contributions I received in my home town are essential to ensure growth and continuation of the Bats in Action School, but they also encourage me to go on with my work despite the challenges which arise from time to time.

A special moment of my stay in Europe was the meeting with two graduates of the Kanthari Institute in Kerala. Together with a group of Kanthari graduates, we ave been working on the establishment of a global network of changemakers and now three of us had the chance to meet in person. I enjoyed it a lot to discuss with likeminded people sharing dreams and challenges.

In Chemnitz, I had a project presentation for a local organization of the blind. It was a small, but very interested group and we spent a great night together, while discussing new ideas and possible partnerships.

New friends from Hungary Vienna is always on my travel itinerary. I met up with friends from a local Church that has supported the work of Bats in Action since its beginning. A project presentation with Brazilian dinner with a partner organization Blickkontakt, was a great opportunity to inform more people about our work. I spent a weekend with a wonderful family from Hungary visiting Vienna and helping out with translation during sevral events. A meeting with Juan, a perceptional mobility instructor, helped me to understand more about the use of ecolocation for independent movement of the blind. If we can include the active use of ecolocation in our training, our name, Bats in Action, will get a new dimension.

Last stop on my journey was Mainz where an old friend who is a teacher organizes a fundraising project with her students. This has been the second year of the project. It was great to meet the students and let them know how their effort made a difference in the lives of our blind students in Brazil.

At this point, I want to saya big thank you to all supporters, friends and family members who made this stay in Europe special for me personally and for Bats in Action as an organization.

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German Christmas Traditions in Brazil

The right moment for this blog post would have been before Christmas, but the activities at the end of the year have kept me too busy for writing. During the last years, I used to spend Christmas and the new year in Germany, but this time I decided to postpone my visit to Europe until February.

In Germany, there are many Christmas traditions which make the weeks prior to Christmas a special time for children and adults alike. There are candles and decorations, Christmas markets, hot wine and cookies, Santa Clause and little surprises every day in December. Here in Brazil,

The Surprise Christmas TreeSocks for Santa ClauseTo make Christmas more interesting for our students, I imported some of the German traditions to Brazil. There was a plant in our house with a small package for every day in December until reaching the 24th. In each of them, there were sweets, small toys or other interesting objects. For the kids, it was a good exercise to read numbers in Braille and often there was a small reading or maths competition to decide who will be the one to open the package of the day.

On 6th of December, it is the day of Santa Clause. In Germany, children believe that he will take sweets to well behaved children and coal for those who have been naughty or lazy. Once we told our students about Santa Clause, they were eager to write letters to him informing that they deserved his visit a lot. We put some big socks at the outside of the door and after some heavy steps and big noise at night our kids were happy to find the socks filled with sweets, small surprises and… some coal as well. Of course Sant Clause also sent a small note informing them about the reason of the coal in their sock. And not to forget, Santa Clause knows Braille.

In the town of Ubajara, several companies and institutions contributed to the Christmas decoration. We have been assigned an artificial tree for decoration. It was an interesting task to choose objects which are not only beautiful to look at, but also to touch, smell or hear.

Instead of a normal Christmas celebration, our students decided to organize a trip to the beach. It was great fun to gather all our students and some guests for a day trip to the sea. For several blind children and adults it was the first time they had the chance to play in the sand and the water. Of course, everyone at the beach was amazed to see so many blind people of different ages enjoying themselves just the same as any sighted person would do.

For Christmas and the new year, the project closed its doors. We took some time to recharge the energies for the coming year and make plans for 2016. Our first project is a week’s workshop for blind women on cooking and mobility.

I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you who follow me on this journey to Brazil and take interest in the work of Bats in Action. In the name of our blind students I wish all of you a happy year 2016.

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Radio Bats

During the radio programme Some of our students dream of becoming a radio moderator in the future. They enjoy listening to the radio and imagine that working with their voice, music and souns would be an interesting perspective for them. Therefore, our first participation in a community radio was an exciting moment for them. During a one hour programme, we presented the work of Bats in Action and answered common questions people have about blindness. Jackson and Adriano, our students, talked about their experiences and the new skills and confidence they gained during their stay in the project. The audience enjoyed the presentation, so we will have a monthly radio programme to promote the project and inform the public about the potentials of blind people.

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Life Just Begins

Adult students touch an animalFor our students, every day is a discovery. Children get to know plants and animals in their surroundings and experience the freedom of running and climbing on trees. Even falling down is a valuable experience as they find out that it is not as bad as people have always told them:
“Be careful, you will fall down! Sit down, don’t walk too fast!”

Teenagers and adults just start life. Probably, the most important discovery is that they are just normal people with their capacities and limitations. They have always been treated as sick or incapacitated people without any freedom or privacy, completely dependent on family members for everything. Now, they need to learn to think for themselves, to make choices and take decisions. It is very challenging for many blind adults to build confidence and find out what they wish to do in their future. Until short time ago, they would just swing in their hammocks or watch tv. Often, they would not imagine to get married, create a family or have a jub.

The disability benefit paid by the Brazilian government contributes to the negative attitute towards blindnes as it keeps blind people inactive and dependent. Families will prefer to stay in control of the money instead of encouraging a blind family member to become independent with the risk to lose the benefit when getting a job.

A young student holding a baby goat For children and adults alike, small adventures make a big difference. A participation in a radio programme, a long walk in the countryside, a chance to touch animals, such as horses, sheep and cows help them to strengthen their self confidence and to increase their knowledge about the world around them.

Unfortunately, many blind people still do not have this chance to live their own live. They are hidden away, over-protected or abandoned. They do not now about their rights to study and make their own choices. Adults usually are not aware of the fact that they do not need the permission of their parents anymore. We need to find ways to reach these people and help them to leave their prisions.

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New Website

With the help of a volunteer, we were able to set up an English website for Bats in Action which presents information about the project. The page is in the final phase of development, but you can already visit it on
Bats in Action

A huge thanks to Cristina, our online volunteer!

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Traveling Bats

Students during the conferenceFrom September 3rd to 7th, I traveled to Teresina, the capital of the neighbouring state of Piaui to participate in a conference on computer technology for the blind. For me, this was an opportunity to create networks with interested teachers and other professionals. They told me about their challenges working with blind students in their schools and communities and I shared my ideas on independence of the blind. Of course it was also a good platform to increase visibility of the Bats in Action Preparatory School in the region.

Four of my older students joined me on the journey and enjoyed the new experience to travel without the support of a sighted person. They learned a lot about the possibilities computer technology opens up for the blind and shared experiences with other blind people. Though they have been learning independent movement for a relatively short time, they were able to walk around the conference area on their own, different from most blind participants who moved around in long rows guided by a sighted volunteer. The group from Ubajara got quickly known as the newcomers who surprised the blind community with their independdence and initiative.

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Hidden Bats

Though we have been able to identify more than 100 blind people in almost 20 localities in the Northern region of Ceará, Northeastern Brazil, there are still many blind children and adults hidden away in their houses, without any hope for education, personal freedom and social interactions. Many parents think they do the best for their blind children by catering for all their physical needs and protecting them from the outside world. Instead of playing and running as any other child, many blind children are kept quiet. They learn very early to be afraid of independent movement as they are prevented from exploring their surroundings. Blind adults have usually internalized the negative attitudes of their families. They reject the use of the white cane for independence and hand responsibility for their lives over to their parents or other care takers.

First independent walk However, we find more and more hidden bats who slowly come out of their holes and caves. In a neighbouring town, there are three young ladies who have never been to school. They have spent their lives in their communities without the chance to study and gain independence. Last week, I visited their house together with a young student. Two of them are sisters who came accross the project recently and during my visit we met their cousin who is also thinking to take the first steps. We shared experiences and even went for a short walk. As there were not enough white canes for all of us we had to get around with sticks cut off trees. Though it is difficult for these girls to imagine that they can move around independently with a white cane, they are very much interested in joining Bats in Action. We invited them for our weekend workshops which we organize for blind adults once a month and I am sure they will get used to their new freedom soon.

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Second Summer Camp for the Blind

Mothers with their blind kidsOn June 27th, a meeting for blind students and their families took place in Ubajara. It was a moment for parents of blind children and teenagers to share their experiences and kids had a fun time with games and story telling. 13 blind students, their families, friends and local authorities participated in a session for experience sharing and presentation of the Preparatory School. The participants came from different localities in the region. The youngest of them is three years old and just about to start the education process. A seven year old boy with his family visited the project and decided to join the school in August. He will be a great company for Wiliany who already stays with us. Our student Adriano showed all his independence and responsibility taking up a big part of the work involved in organizing a public event. Some of our adult students joined the event to help with the organization, others visited for the first time and are interested in joining the project during the weekend workshops we offer to blind adults.

For the students already living in the school, it was an opportunity to invite their family members and show their progress to those who are still reluctant to join. Local authorities and interested professionals had the chance to get more information about our work and see the first results.

The event helped to establish contacts between parents of blind children. Current and potential students came together and the community gained a better understanding about the Preparatory School and the possibilities of blind people. This summer camp would not have been possible without the support of the community which contributed with food items and practical support.

In July, the project closes its doors for the holidays. Students return to their families. My colleague and I take some days off and use the rest of the month for visits, evaluation and planning of the second semester.

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Running Bats

adriano com medalhaIn cooperation with a sports project for people with disabilities of the University in Sobral, our students have the opportunity to participate in physical education. Once a week, teenagers and young adults practice swimming and other sports. Participants of the project are mainly students of the classroom in Sobral together with our teacher Adriana. Two of the older students from Ubajara go to Sobral once a week to take part in the activities. This is a good way for them to improve their mobility skills and interact with their friends.

On May 2nd, five Bats participated in an inclusive running competition in the state capital Fortaleza. The experience of succeeding in a competition and reaching the set goal was a big boost for their self confidence. They also enhanced their independence while traveling without their parents or care takers.

Sports is an important tool for physical fitness, social interaction and self confidence development and I am thankful to the sports project of the university in Sobral for the cooperation with Bats in Action. I am looking forward to more successful competitions ahead. Now, our bats learn not only to fly, but also to run and to swim.

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