Visually Impaired Graduate Rises Above Odds

25 Apr 2015 07:30am
By Kaino Nghitongo

WINDHOEK, 25 APR (NAMPA)- A 27-year-old visually impaired student at the University of Namibia says university life was never easy but she is glad and proud to have pulled through to the end of it.
Sharing the story of her life with this news agency before her graduation from a Bachelor of Arts in Industrial Psychology, Miriam Kamberipa said UNAM is not a friendly environment for the visually impaired.
She said, visually impaired persons have to know a place by feeling but with the university's environment where everything feels the same, it was quite a challenge for her.
“Here, everything feels the same; there is no difference and you always need someone to guide you, which was always difficult for other students to be moving around with you all the time,” said the emotional Kamberipa.
She is not just an ordinary Psychology student, but an A and B grade student who wore the black gown, walked onto the stage to collect a symbol of her degree and graduated with pride last week, but that moment of glory was not for free.
Kamberipa said life at the university was even harder when they had to translate their notes into Braille, indicating that the German class, for example, was the hardest.
UNAM’s Disability Unit has a Tiger pro embosser that the students and the coordinator use to translate notes into Braille, while they also use the Duxbury to print notes in Braille. The notes are first scanned and edited before being printing in Braille.
At university, a student cannot afford to rely on only his or her notes and need to do research at the library on a regular basis, but that is harder and sometimes impossible for the visually impaired.
“The library here does not even have books in Braille and when you have to do your assignments, you need someone else to read out loud. Now, that person also has their own school work to do or sometimes there simply isn’t someone to read for you,” she said, adding that it was then difficult because she cannot go to the library on her own.
She said, the university's library also does not have machines, like book readers that play the audio version of a book, which adapts content to suit the visually impaired.
Getting notes from lecturers was also not an easy task because some lecturers only uploaded the notes on the university's online student portal. The online student portal is an electronic platform and network to facilitate the exchange of files between students and faculties.
Kamberipa said her Disability Unit Coordinator, Penandino Kandjii always made sure they get the notes on time.
“Our coordinator would always go out to our lecturers in the first week of classes and tell them that you have a visually impaired student in your class and we need notes so we translate into Braille, but there were some lecturers who refused to give the notes.” she noted.
Born in the Omaheke Region and from a family of six, Kamberipa said her family background has continued to encourage her to study hard.
“My family background encouraged me to study because whenever I think of my siblings and my mother, they just encourage me to study harder. I am also the first person in my family to go to university, while I have a number of siblings at home, so it really touches my heart to do something so that I can be able to help my family and myself,” she said.
She noted that she is optimistic that her achievement can help her siblings and encourage them to also study hard for a better future.
Further narrating her experience at UNAM, Kamberipa said life in the hostel was however not that challenging, because she felt safe that she did not have to take a taxi to campus everyday.
“When I was in the hostel, there were no challenges really because it’s a place where you stay so you know it very well. I was easily used to the environment but it was always just a problem when you have to go to the dinning hall,” she said.
She added that because UNAM is very crowded, she at times bumped into people when walking alone and some people did not like it at all.
“I sometimes bumped into people and when I apologised, some of them did not accept the apology and always said that if you are blind, then why don't you walk with someone who can guide you,” said the sad UNAM graduate.
Kamberipa was not born visually impaired but had an eye problem at the age of five and later went for an operation. That operation however was not a permanent solution to her problem.
“After that operation, I don't really know what happened to my eyes because they started becoming weaker and I got spectacles but they were too strong, so I don't know if it’s the specs that made me blind or if my condition just worsened on its own,” she said.
At first, it was not easy for her mother to accept that her daughter will be visually impaired for the rest of her life because she was born with normal sight, but coming to terms with her condition was the only way to move forward.
“Whatever happened, there is no way you can change it, so if you can’t see anything at all, you should just take it as it easy, go on with your life and don't think of the present but what you will do in the future,” she said.
The motivated Kamberipa said that working with people with special needs has been her passion since she was in grade seven and she now knows that she was supposed to study Social Work and not Psychology to have that passion manifest.
Industrial Psychologists mostly focus on studying people in their working environment, which also involves focusing on workplace dynamics and organisational structures, while social workers mostly help people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives; problems that are issues in society and affect the whole nation.
She said that having achieved what she has over the whole of her life thus far, she is now motivated to complete a masters degree in Educational Psychology but when she applied for this year, the course was already full due to limited space.
“Disability does not mean inability. A person with a disability can do anything, so parents with such kids should let them go to school because they can one day be breadwinners in their families,” she said.
Kamberipa attended her grade one to three at the Eluwa special school in Ongwediva in the Oshana Region and came to Windhoek to continue her grade four to ten at the National Institute for Special Education.
According to her, she rarely encountered challenges at those schools because both were designed for children with special needs and where they are taught how to work on their own plus, materials were always available.
She explained that when she started her grade one at the age of seven, she had to stay home for two years because of her eye problem and only continued to grade four at the age of 12.
Kamberipa said that she eventually went to the Windhoek Technical School for Grade 11 & 12, describing life there as really difficult because teachers were not trained on how to work with people with special needs.
She said Government then decided that she and other learners with disabilities be transferred to a mainstream school to acquire the social skills and know how to interact with people who do not have disabilities. This, she said was not easy.
“When we went there, there were no books for us with disabilities and these special books first had to come from South Africa. Some normal learners did help us at times by reading out the texts used in class, where we just had to be and listen. In the end, everything was fine because that is just how worked for you to have that better future that you so want. You just have to accept it and go through some difficulties.” she said.
Kamberipa wrote her Grade 10 in 2005 and matriculated in 2007 getting 29 points in Grade 10, and 22 points in grade 12.
She explained that she had to repeat her Grade 12 at the same school in 2008, getting 27 points that year, because students whose vision was impaired then could not upgrade with the Namibia College of Open Learning (NamCOL) because there were no study materials available for them.
Kamberipa said, her mission for higher education was then further dragged on for two more years because there were not funds to pay her tuition at university, until she managed to secure a loan with the Namibia Student Financial Assistant Fund (NSFAF) in 2011, which brought her to her graduation in 2015.
The visually impaired UNAM graduate said she is still job-hunting, which is also very difficult because she always needs someone who knows all the places in Windhoek to go with her but she is confident that should she not get a job soon, she would resume studies.
Also speaking to Nampa, disability coordinator at UNAM, Kandjii, said there are some challenges that she encounters on a daily basis but despite the challenges, she still loves her job and does it for love.
“I don't really find my job difficult because I just love what I do, although we face challenges of getting the notes from lecturers late, we still make sure that the students have the notes,” she said.
Kandjii said they are currently just two persons and one assistant who translate the notes for the visually impaired students into Braille.
She said work has however been made a little easier for them after the unit received ten computers in 2015 with an audio software that can help students listen to and do their work efficiently.
The disability unit at UNAM only had five computers in the past, which were not enough for all the students, and due to the small space they had in the past, they could not take in more computers.
The unit then changed to a new venue in 2014, where they got a bigger computer laboratory to accommodate more computers.
Kandjii said that excluding Kamberipa, the university's disability unit at the main campus in Windhoek has 47 students, while 14 are at other UNAM campuses.
Not all of the students are visually impaired and have different disabilities such as, hearing and physical disabilities, with some requiring a wheelchair at all times.
UNAM registered 15 new students this year, who are part of the 47 students.
Three students, including Kamberipa graduated on Thursday.