She holds onto the wall and quickly moves towards the reception area. Upon her arrival, she staggers around in search for her visitor.
“Sweetheart, where are you? I am very happy to see you,” calls out, says a beaming Sylvia Karungi.
But Karungi cannot see. She is visually impaired and a teacher at the Center for Visually Impaired Children – Uganda (Cevic – Uganda) in Buziga-Kiruddu, off Ggaba road. She cuddles me as we proceed to see the children. It is break time. The four little ones here, all blind, are eating porridge with popcorns and biscuits.
Shockingly , they sense that their teacher has arrived. One of them shouts: “Aunt Shasha, I am drinking.”
She asks the children to stand up and welcome me. These are blind but brilliant children. They ask for my name before greeting me in English language. At Cevic – Uganda, Karungi is lovingly referred to as Aunt Shasha, a name popularised by one of the old blind students.
“When Karen Nakibuuka, a blind child of my boss was young, she wanted to know how people called me. By then, I was at campus and I told her students call me Shasha,” Karungi recalls. “She [Nakibuuka] has a lovely aunt so, she decided to add the word aunt on the name and asked everyone at the centre to call me aunt Shasha.”
LOVE FOR THE BLIND
Karungi says she has a lot of passion for vulnerable children – mainly the blind. She has been working with Cevic-Uganda for one year, teaching language and the use of braille from nursery classes to primary three.
“I have come to understand blind children and what they need for a better life,” she says.
While the interview proceeds, the little ones come out of the class looking for her. They move in groups of two while tickling each other. She feels their movements and asks me not to step on the muddy ground outside the class. Karungi just has a feeling for the children. In all the classes, she is able to assess them.
“I can tell the slow and quick learners easily . You will teach others how to write for almost a month but they catch up with time,” Karungi says.
She adds that the children use senses of smelling, hearing and touching to communicate with her. Unlike their sighted colleagues, visually impaired teachers vary in how they handle their work.
Karungi uses materials such as brailed reading books, frames, the abacus, slates for writing and brailing machines to teach. Big sea stones and sticks are also used for counting, among others.
Instead of sitting behind on her chair while teaching, she constantly moves around using the different materials on the children.
NOT HER FIRST LOVE
While growing up, Karungi wanted to be a secular musician or a lawyer. At this point, she doesn’t regret missing any of those.
“It feels good to be with these children. One time I asked them if they were blind [and] surprisingly they said they could see me,” she says.
Her proximity to the children is enough to prevent potential discipline glitches. She, however, remains worried that many visually- impaired children continue to be abandoned by their parents yet they are of great importance like other children.
Karungi proves that people who are visually-impaired can teach and children who are blind can easily be taught.
Twenty-four years ago, little Karungi was born to Emmanuel (now deceased) and Florence Isingoma in Kibona village, Isingiro district. Karungi is the second born in the family of six sighted siblings.
“My mother told me that I was not born a blind child. I was a very beautiful girl but I lost my sight when I made four years,” Karungi says. “My mother, like any young woman, I think was very disappointed and wouldn’t hold it.”
Karungi was left in the company of her grandmother, Beatrice Mulinda, who loved her so much while her mother was still nursing the shock of the unclear blindness of her daughter. Even when she was growing up, Karungi did not bother to ask her grandmother why she could not see.
“I grew up in a community of the blind and sighted, I had no reason to ask why I was blind. I always didn’t take myself to be blind until when I grew up,” Karungi says, adding that she still does not know what happened to her.
Her mother was also not comfortable discussing her blindness.
“I was told my mother once took me to Ruharo hospital [in Mbarara] but the doctors said my eyes were totally blind,” she says.
Although Karungi was a blind child, her mother sent her to school. She was posted to St Hellen’s girls’ boarding PS that caters for both the blind and sighted children in Mbarara district. It is at this school that Karungi realised she had a future.
“This is a school for the nuns and they loved me so much. My fellow blind children would carry me on their back and run around with me,” Karungi says. “It was real fun.”
The school taught her a couple of things such as washing, using braille machines, sweeping classes and digging, among others. She was also an active musician in the church, the schools’ choir and that of the blind children. Karungi got aggregate 12 in her
primary leaving examinations.
She was picked up by the Sisters of Our Lady of Good Counsel, who took her to Boni-Consilli girls, in Kyabirukwa, Isingiro district for her O-levels. There she obtained aggregate 30 (second division) at senior four, before joining Hornby HS in Kabale in 2008, for her A-levels. She completed her S6, where she got 13 points.
She emerged the second best student that year after a female student who got 15 points. She applauds Sr Felista Nakityo for paying her school fees throughout her schooling and her best teachers Enid Turyatunga and Elizabeth Kiiza for their inspirational talks as well as training her to be a woman in future.
When you meet Karungi, it is hard to believe that she is blind. Those who know her say she does many amazing things that only a few sighted people pull off. In 2010, she enrolled at Makerere University under the affirmative action programme for a bachelor’s degree in Community Psychology.
“This was my first time in Kampala, yet I had not even crossed [through] Mbarara before. I travelled from Isingiro with two other blind girls and one male blind friend, all alone to Kampala. We were not even cheated by the conductors,” Karungi says.
She studied computer lessons for four weeks before joining campus. And her stay at Mary Stuart hall was ‘awesome’ despite a few challenges in her classes. Karungi beat 25 contestants to win the guild representative council post for her hall.
She was once voted the vice president and woman representative on the Makerere University Disabled Students’ Association (MUDISA). She also represented persons with disability at the school of Psychology. Her biggest qualm was not allowing students to use braille machines during their examinations.
“Your guide reads for you a question and you tell them the answer to write for you. Just imagine if I tell you an answer and I don’t know whether the person has written the right one. It does not give us time to think at all,” Karungi complains.
However, she has nice things to say of her lecturer, Paul Nyende, who always referred to her as a ‘spectacular girl’ enabling her to graduate with a second-class upper degree in January this year.
“Even if I was wrong, he [Nyende] would always be there for me. I always surprised him whenever I wrote on a slate,” she says.
“Sometimes, I thought I had no future but he made me understand that being blind is just a loss of sight. Really, it doesn’t take away the other sensory parts of one’s body.”
She was also doing most of her work on a laptop, which was unfortunately stolen. Whenever she gets free time, she enjoys singing, joking and partying. Karungi says if she gets any friends who are willing to go out with her, she will be the happiest since she spends most of the time at home, teaching the little ones.
Currently, Karungi a single lady , stays with her married cousin brother along Kigo road, off Entebbe road.
If all goes well, Karungi looks forward to do a Master’s in Human rights and Ethics. She says this will help her fight for the rights of mostly blind women and children. According to Karungi, most disabled men have come out prosperous but the girls remain downtrodden.
She leaves a message for the visually-impaired.
“There is no future for a blind person today without education. Please, love yourselves and do not lose hope. You will prosper in life if you are passionate about what you are doing.”
Karungi requests that I leave my contact behind. She saves the number and the name very fast in her phone, something that continued to impress me. Together with the little ones, they wave and smile endlessly until I step out of the school’s gate.
Source : The Observer