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Support for the visually impaired in rural Nigeria

Here is some additional information about Fantsuam Academy and its initiative to use JAWS for the blind and visually impaired in its community.(As promised in my previous blog)
This email update was sent to Dadamac UK from Cicely, a VSO at Fantsuam Foundation (FF), and has been edited to remove names. For photos click here.

"Our JAWS experts, are safely back in Jos. I have thanked them for the time they have given introducing  Fantsuam and its instructors to JAWS as part of the programme to make Fantsuam Academy courses available to the sight-impaired with suport from VSO and ANWAB/Freedom Scientific ( developers of JAWS.)

Report of the visit

Seven Fantsuam Foundation Academy instructors and two blind members of the community attended a JAWS introductory session over two days, held in the Community Community Centre (CCC) on 6 and 7 April.

The sessions were led by two sight impaired students currently studying Special Education at the University of Jos.  One of the students had taught himself JAWS after becoming blind at the age of 17 and has written a 60 hour JAWS curriculum including student books and teachers' guide. The other has been partially sighted since birth.

As well as demonstrating JAWS, FF instructors were encouraged to 'practice' teaching with the two blind members of the community, both of whom are familiar with typewriters but have not used computers before.

At the forefront of Education for Children and the Visually Impaired

This week's UK-Nigeria meeting on Wednesday proved so informative that I have had to briefly summarise the topics that were covered with the intention of writing additional blogs giving more detail.

The Nigerian team was reduced in numbers as two exciting developments were underway.

Firstly, there was the anticipated arrival of Reuben Buhari, a journalist with This Day newspaper. Reuben plans to do an update about the work of Fantsuam Foundation (FF) , in particular looking at the overall impact of FF on its host communities.

Secondly, there some of the Nigerian team were involved in a JAWS training session for the Academy instructors to show how to make computers accessible to the blind. This is a fantastic initiative which will make the Fantsuam Academy courses accessible to the sight-impaired with support from VSO and ANWAB/Freedom Scientific (developers of JAWS). I understand from Wikipaedia that JAWS (an acronym for Job Access With Speech) is " a screen reader, a software program for visually impaired users, produced by the Blind and Low Vision Group at Freedom Scientific. Its purpose is to make personal computers using Microsoft Windows accessible to blind and visually impaired users".

Chollom informed us that they had just downloaded the JAWS software which will be installed on the newly arrived Inveneo computers.
John summed up the JAWS initiative perfectly when he told us: "that is a project that enables FF to address one its mission of reaching the un-served population of people with disabilities"

ZittNet – Fantsuam Foundation's Community Wireless Network

The success of Zittnet, at our sister organisation Fantsuam Foundation, is a major reason that we are able to connect the UK with rural Nigeria so brilliantly at our weekly online meetings.

To really get a better picture of Zittnet I urge you to look at this excellent article written by Louise Berthilson in 2007. The information is current, although there have been further lightning strikes. This has resulted in a larger mast. I will also ask Bala, the manager of Zittnet and his team, to comment about any other changes that may have occured.

New Arrivals at Fantsuam!

Regular followers of our Wednesday meetings will realise that we can never predict exactly what will unfold. Predictably, this week was no exception.

Despite travelling, John was fully apprised of events at Fantsuam Foundation and joined the Skype meeting to fill us in. His first input was to let the UK team know that no-one else from Fantsuam would be online - because they were in the middle of some exciting developments.

These centred around a huge effort to get their new Community Communication Centre up and running. New equipment ordered from the US had just arrived, so workers were busying themselves with myriad installations, challenges and teething problems as they set up technology for this innovative project.

We were told that another reason the Fantsuam team could not attend was that Demas was attending a water and sanitation workshop in Abuja, and Comfort a DFID meeting in Abuja.

Last Mile Connectivity - the realities

Today's online meeting illustrated perfectly the type of difficulties which can potentially beset our weekly Skype link-ups between Nigeria and the UK.

It first became apparent that all was not well after we were joined in the session by Bala, Manager of Zittnet and a regular team member. The Nigerian team quickly explained that they were experiencing problems with their network.

Technology 4 Communication

At the risk of repeating myself, I am always amazed by the dynamic and unpredictable nature of our Wednesday online meetings.

As always this week, we began with the basic format of an hour-long Skype group chat, modelled around an agenda circulated a few days before the meeting.

However, the UK team were very keen to introduce Elaine Hickey to their Nigerian counterparts. (Elaine is helping Dadamac UK by inputting her project management skills).

I have to admit I haven't actually had a chance to meet Elaine who is currently working in Ireland. Fortunately for us, she had a holiday due to that country's St Patrick's Day celebrations and was able to give us some of her free time. (Coincidentally Elaine informed us that St Patrick is also the patron saint of Nigeria - so her inclusion at the meeting seemed even more apt!)

Cicely, a VSO at Fantsuam chaired this week's meeting and asked if she could also invite her colleague Teleri, who had not previously experienced an online Dadamac Team meeting and who wished to format a proposal.

Education In Rural Nigeria

During the course of Wednesday's UK-Nigeria meeting, we found ourselves contemplating the realities of education at Fantsuam. For that was among the traditionally vast range of topics covered in a session which also spanned everything from Sickle Cell Disease to Mozzi-Mort!

It was interesting to learn that students at Fantsuam are being introduced to Twitter on the diploma course.

Open Source in Rural Nigeria

The crucial topic of open source software proved the highlight of Wednesday's weekly online UK-Nigeria meeting.

Interestingly, the UK side were informed that Linux is a key part of the curriculum on the 'IT Essentials' Cisco course, run by Fantsuam staff.

It was explained to us that the first approach is to introduce the students to the basic concept of open source.

Kelechi told us that part of the students' installation module includes installing Linux as well as Windows. We also learned from John, a trainer, that most of Fantsuam's students are very familiar with Ubuntu.

We were extremely interested to learn that Kelechi is currently testing another open source e-learning platform called Dokeos. He explained that it is built on Php and uses mysql as database.

He is hopeful that this system will help him administer the students' exams and tests online. He also hopes that this may help to reduce the costs of materials and presumably administrative costs too.

Dadamac has recently set up an Open Source Special Interest Group where team members can learn more about the subject together.

Sickle Cell Disease - Global awareness day.

Sickle Cell Awareness day was created by the United Nations to recognise Sickle Cell Disease as a global health crisis.

Member states were urged to raise awareness of this terrible genetic disease on June 19 each year. 

And John Dada and his team at Fantsuam Foundation have already started to action this call.

At yesterday's weekly UK/Nigeria Dadamac team meeting, John explained that a SCD support meeting had been held at Fantsuam last Saturday .  A  documentary in collaboration with the Abuja SC Support group is being prepared for showing on this year's Global SC Day.
Those interested can view my previous blog entry about the daunting task faced by John and his team, who are battling overwhelming need with severely limited resources.

The Fantsuam Sickle Cell Support Group meeting is held on the third Saturday of  every  month. Support groups are usually comprised of people  who have either been affected or are carers. Attendance is growing each month  - with more than 80 people at last Saturday's meeting. 

Due to the vast numbers there is a need to change the venue, so canopies under mango trees at the fishfarm will be used for future meetings.  Attendees came from as far away as Akwanga (about 80km from Kafanchan) and John said he " just felt helpless in face of such need."

The meetings are for networking, with parents and carers sharing information about how they are coping. A nurse councellor answers  questions and gives advice on how to cope with sickling crisies.

Wednesday's Meeting Feedback- in brief!

At our Wednesday's UK/Nigeria online meeting, as we routinely tackled the business on the agenda sometimes, I forget our geographical and cultural differences so it was helpful to be reminded of them this week.

As Pam and I were shivering here in the UK, with the threat of snow forecasted, the team in Nigeria told us about the fierce heat that they are currently experiencing (as they wait for the 'rains' to come.)


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