Joana's story: See with the Heart
by Lyndal Rowlands
Joana was working as a secretary in Dili in 2001, when her friend told her about a young man called Thomas who was totally blind. Joana had studied how to help people who were blind university so she went with her friend to visit Thomas at his house. When she got there she asked him if you knew braille or any other skills to help him live independently.
Joana was sad to find out that Thomas didn’t know how to read braille and she promised to return after work to help him learn. Once Joana started teaching Thomas, other people began to hear about what she was doing.
There were no services available in Timor-Leste for the blind and so many people began to ask Joana for help. She began holding classes under the shade of a big tree in Dili. People bought their children, nieces and nephews to her. Joana began to receive support at home and overseas, including from then President José Ramos Horta.
She started an organisation and decided to call it Fuan Nabilan which means ‘See with the Heart.’ Since 2001, Joana has continued to work to develop the services available to people who are blind or vision impaired in Timor-Leste. This includes Orientation and Mobility training which helps the vision impaired and blind to increase their independence and safety. Between 2001 and 2004, Joana
completed two basic introductory courses in Orientation and Mobility led by visiting volunteers from Australia.
In order to learn how to teach Orientation and Mobility Joana desperately needed more training. Volunteer ETEP instructor Bashir teaches Orientation and Mobility instructors at universities in Australia and so he and Sarah began delivering training with the view to also train Timorese trainers. The training has made a big difference for Joana,
“The big difference is that they are teaching us to become teachers, a much higher standard than before, we are learning how to help visually impaired people and how to guide them. Sarah and Bashir encourage us to become professional and to teach others.”
Instructors Sarah and Bashir teach the trainers to use as many of their senses as possible. Including light if they have light sensitivity, touch, the feeling of the breeze, sound and smell.
After completing two years training with ETEP, Joana now teaches Orientation and Mobility to others.
She explains how she teaches somebody how to get around the town centre in Same independently (In 2006 Joana and her family relocated Fuan Nabilan to Same during a period of political unrest and violence). She teaches them how to use landmarks such as the police station, Care international, the school, the ‘loja’ or little shop and Joana's house to help orient themselves.
“You have two or three landmarks and work out if the landmark is on your left or right. At the intersection, you use your ears, then if you hear nothing than you can go."
Joana walks together with the student to the market or to the church. They walk around the town two or three times. They learn and memorise the route and then the last time Joana does not speak and just observes. If they lose their way she waits to see if they can use their new skills to find their way back. If not she goes up to them and says “Stop please come, review and then keep going.”
Joana explains that Fuan Nabilan is well known in Same.
“Usually people are not allowed to touch food at the market, but the market stall holders know about Fuan Nabilan and let the people she teaches, pick up the vegetables to weigh them and smell the fish to make sure it is still fresh.”
“Because many people in Same understand about the blind in Same through Fuan Nabilan, people always ask where are you going, so it is quite safe.”
She smiles, she is so grateful to God, she feels proud, she is happy that whatever she has been taught she has been able to pass it on, she tells them how good they are.