EBU(Senior group) Fine Work
“The Light of Knowledge”
Russia Nikolay Antonov (58/Male)
Eyesight is a marvelous gift of Gods! Every creature on Earth craves light. Plants follow the light, but the blind have to remain in the darkness of eternal night. Fresh green meadows are not for the blind. Neither are the sunlit mountain peaks. Death is nothing; to live and not be able to see is the true misery.”
Lost in thought, I sort through a stack of notebooks on my desk. These are no regular notebooks: they are neither squared nor ruled. They are made of heavy white sheets and meant for writing with a stylus rather than a pen. A stylus is a special device used in the Braille writing method. And the children I teach are no regular children: they are blind. Just like them, I am blind too, and my job is to teach them. They will soon be here to get their marks. And while I wait, my memory takes me back to the faraway 1960, the year my parents took the 7-year-old me to a boarding school for blind children.
I can still remember every detail of that day, 28 August, 1960. It was still hot, yet autumn could already be felt in the air. The school was in the country, and all the children were playing outside. Soon, an older girl walked out of the school building with a Braille book in her hands. She told us to sit quietly around her and started reading to us. When she finished, I asked to see the book and fingered the dotted pages for a long time in the hope of understanding something. This was when Valya, for that was the girl’s name, told me about the Braille reading and writing method. She walked me to the classroom and demonstrated the stylus and the slate. Straight away, I tried to write something.
The 1st of September came soon after. I remember my first lesson and my first teacher, Elizaveta Elifankina, long dead now, may she rest in peace. She dedicated her whole life to the honorable task of educating blind children. For four long years, she carefully led me down the uneasy path to basic knowledge, taking both my successes and my failures to heart.
Next memory: my first summer break. I could read and write really well already. I brought home a Braille book and surprised all of my fellow villagers. They took a while to examine the book and to try decipher some regular letters, and when they failed, they assumed that I had memorised the whole book in order to confuse and mislead them.
I loved books from my earliest childhood, largely thanks to my mother. A common country woman, she realised that a blind child’s understanding of the world depended solely on the effort his family made. When my sighted pals would not play with me, she told them that I would surely become a learned man, while they would remain peasants. I can see now that it was the effort to fight off despair that made her say that, and yet she had faith in me. When I was four she persuaded my dad to buy me an SW radio, which was an enormous luxury for a peasant family of modest means. It was as if the whole world entered our house. My mother spent hours reading to me, and by the time I started school I had memorised a lot of poetry and could do render texts I has heard. Once I learned to read, books and I were never apart.
Time flew by, and in my next memory I am a senior at school. By then, I could use the Braille system to read and write symbols and formulas in physics, chemistry and math, and solve complicated math problems. It has been a long while, and yet the knowledge comes back quickly when I need it.
1971 was another fateful year. I finished school and became a student of History and Philosophy at the PedagogicalUniversity.
My mother’s efforts in my education and development were a crucial factor in the choice of my life’s work.
During my first university term, I doubted if I could make it. I was the only blind student in my year, and there were just two of us in the whole of the university. My fellow students did not know how to treat me, and were embarrassed to ask in case they hurt my feelings. Therefore early on they only offered help occasionally. And I really needed help: I had no experience of living among the sighted or being a student. There was hardly any Braille literature available. I had to save to pay a reader, a senior student who recorded textbooks and her own lecture notes. I then spent nights translating those and making Braille copies. I cannot remember how many kilos of paper I used in my four years as a student, but I used those ‘books’ in my job as a teacher for a long time afterwards.
I got straight As in all of my first year exams, and qualified for the highest student allowance. The money put end to lots of problems. I had almost no issues about my disability, I was open and gregarious, and I made friends with quite a few of my fellow students. They started eagerly helping me, while my prioritising and sense-making skills helped them in their studies as well.
Once I passed state exams, I became a young teacher in a village school.
In over thirty years, I made the difficult journey from a village school to a university. This was a journey of successes and failures, just like anybody else’s. I worked, I studied for a higher degree, worked again to become a defects specialist. The Braille system was my constant companion. My archive contains dozens of kilos of Braille paper, including reading notes, working papers, prep for articles and books.
Children’s voices behind my door bring me back from my walk down memory lane. Next, I’ll explain the mistakes, plan my next day and walk home.
For over a century, the French town of Coupvray, 45km to the east of Paris, has been home to the modest monument to Louis Braille, the great man whose short but amazing life’s work has brought the eternal light of knowledge to millions of blind people worldwide.