There are approximately 100, 000 visually disabled people in Zimbabwe. And two of them this week walked out to a storm of applause from the conference hall at Crowne Plaza hotel in Harare.

Yesterday, July 26, a Dominican nun Sister Catherine Jackson, director of Dorothy Duncan Centre for the blind and physically handicapped, and Ms. Nozipho Khanda a young Zimbabwean woman, who is blind from birth, caught the attention of the packed Zimbabwe International Book Fair indaba, when they delivered a speech on what it means to be blind in Zimbabwe in a global digital age. 

Sr. Catherine, a Roman Catholic nun in charge of the Braille library and rehabilitation centre, challenged the audience from the very beginning. “I don’t think you are literate. And this is the book fair. Very few of you are able to read a Braille book.” The hall bursts into applause.

They print Braille books that the Ministry of Education  distributes all around the country. “These books come in set of volumes and you have to be a superman in order to carry all your books around with you. So you have to know exactly which volume you need for which lesson at which time,” painted the picture Sr. Jackson. “When Nozipho came into form one at the [Dominican] convent we asked for reading books for her from Britain. And the first book they send was Charles Dickens Great Expectations in 24 volumes. And I am so proud of Nozipho Khanda because

Nozipho Khanda speaks to the participants of ZIBF 2011 indaba about being blind in Zimbabwe in a global digital age.

she finished that book in a couple of weeks. Because we encouraged her reading culture she got new books every week. She has a reading culture and she speaks six languages. She has a degree from Melbourne University and she is a senior Christian Counsellor and represents the World Blind Union for training courses around Africa.”

Talking about the needs Sr. Catherine, who studied Braille for 12 months in Australia, mentioned a need for typists in MS Word. A Word document is typed in, they have a software that translates it into Braille. Then they print those texts and the books go to schoosl all around Zimbabwe.

The alternative is to put a book on audio. And for this again they are looking for people who can read and are prepared to sit for hours and read some of those very long books.

During the questions session, Sr Catherine, who  partially lost her sight in 1986 and retains the sight of one eye,  encouraged employers if they have any doubts about employing a blind person to visit her at the Braille library. “I am a professional ‘beggar’ because I started the Braille library to stop the blind beggars in the streets. I became a professional beggar myself. I go around and persuade everybody that they have a part to play.”

Having been founded by the late Mrs. Dorothy Duncan in 1950 for the care of the blind, the Dorothy Duncan organisation now comprises three sites in Harare : the Dorothy Duncan Centre in Greendale, the Dorothy Duncan Braille library in Fife Ave. and a residential property for rehabilitation in Milton Park. The centre has now expanded its services to the partially sighted,  paraplegics and other physically disabled.

Sr Catherine Jackson can be reached at 00263 4 251116/7 and [email protected]

By clicking below, you can download the speeches of Sr. Catherine Jackson and  Ms. Nozipho Khanda:

Sr Catherine Jackson part 1

Sr Catherine Jackson part 2

Nozipho Khanda part 1

Nozipho Khanda part 2

All donations to the Dorothy Duncan Centre and Braille Library will be most gratefully received and acknowledged. 

If you are in Zimbabwe, please consider sending donations to:

Stanbic Bank Zimbabwe Limited, Belgravia Branch, PO Box CY 1189, Harare

Branch No. 3103 Account No. 0222087374801 – Dorothy Duncan Centre

If you are outside Zimbabwe, please consider sending donations to:

African Banking Corporation Botswana Limited, Gaborone, Botswana

Account No. 1003098390201 – Dorothy Duncan Centre