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HomeINTERVIEWSI experienced 35 broken relationships for being blind – Oyo teacher

I experienced 35 broken relationships for being blind – Oyo teacher

By Alexander Okere,

A visually impaired teacher and freelance broadcaster, Ayanwale Ayantola, teaches English at the Adeniran Memorial Grammar School, Ogbomoso, Oyo State, and shares his story with ALEXANDER OKERE

Some people with visual impairment had difficult childhoods. Was it the same for you?

I can say yes because the impression Nigerians have about people with disabilities is not encouraging. I was not born blind. I lost my sight when I was a SS2 pupil, though I had a visual problem when I was in junior secondary school. I attended Ori-Oke Baptist Primary School, Ogbomoso, and Ori-Oke Community High School, but did not graduate from the school because of the problem I had with my sight. As a JSS2 pupil, I noticed that I could not see clearly. That led me to use recommended glasses. Later, I found it difficult to see the blackboard unless I moved closer. My school principal and some other teachers noticed the problem when my performance dropped because they knew I was a brilliant pupil.

So, they told me to bring my parents to school and when they came, my father explained the challenges I had with my eyes. We later went to Jos, Plateau State, where I had the first surgery. Each of my eyes was operated on three times, but I did not know what the doctors told my dad. However, I was advised not to force myself to read with the eyes but rather to use the level of vision I had left to aid my movement.

Did the doctors tell your parents what was wrong with your eyes or why you could not see clearly?

Yes. I was told I had glaucoma and my father was advised to enrol me in a school for the blind. In 2007, I was enrolled in the Oyo State School for the Blind, Ogbomoso, where I spent about eight months learning Braille and typewriting. I wanted to become a medical doctor and was a science pupil at Ori-Oke Community High School. I was told that I could not continue as a science student, so I became an arts pupil. After learning Braille and typewriting at the school for the blind, I went back to SS1 at Adeniran Memorial Grammar School, Ogbomoso, where I currently work as a teacher.

Can you remember the point when you completely lost your sight?

When I was at the school for the blind, I could see partially and move about to do one or two things. I lost my sight completely in 2006. That was the time I forced my eyes to read printed copies of the materials I used to prepare for examinations organised by the West African Examinations Council. That was against the advice I was given not to read with my eyes. I can remember that on the day I lost my sight, I visited one of my seniors in school. As I tried to enter the class, I hit my forehead on one of the pillars and fainted. That was when I realised that I could no longer see.

How did your condition impact your relationship with people in your community?

Many of my friends left me because they thought I was no longer part of them since I would attend a school for the blind, which was a boarding school. When I graduated from the school, I could not find any of them, because they had moved ahead of me academically, having returned to SS1 due to my condition.

How did you qualify as a teacher?

I attended the Federal College of Education (Special), Oyo, and studied English/Visually Impaired Study. I graduated between 2004 and 2005. I found it easy to cope there because of my knowledge of the use of Braille. I could still see partially when I was at the college, so it was not difficult to find me around the school. In fact, I was the one guiding most of the blind students there. But now, people guide me because my sight is completely lost. I also attended the National Teachers Institute.

Were you bugged by your inability to attend a university and study Medicine, which was your dream course?

I felt bad. My life has totally changed. If not for the advice I received, I wanted to commit suicide.

How did you come out of that?

I was discouraged from ending my life when I saw blind teachers making the best out of their lives, so I told myself that I could still make it in life

Why did you decide to become a teacher?

God deposited the spirit of teaching in me. I was a Sunday school teacher in the church I attended, so I love teaching. So, when I lost my sight, I had no other choice. I thought the only job a blind person could take up was teaching, singing, or becoming a pastor. Although I have the ability to teach, I did not want to become a teacher.

For how long have you been a teacher at Adeniran Memorial Grammar School, Ogbomoso?

This is my 13th year in service. Teaching is good because when one teaches, one is moulding a life. I teach SS1 and SS2 pupils. As a blind teacher, I relate with sighted teachers.

How do you teach your pupils?

After preparing my (lesson) note, I give it to one of the sighted teachers or class captains to help me write on the chalkboard. After that, they submit their notes and read them to my hearing for marking. I don’t see anything difficult in that; we form our notes the way sighted people do theirs. In fact, I can tell that most of our pupils enjoy the classes of blind teachers more than sighted teachers. I teach my pupils with different methods.

How do you teach your pupils oral English?

I learnt the symbols when I could see. The reason why I give kudos to the Federal College of Education (Special), Oyo, is because it made use of modelling.

What does that mean?

For us to make the blind pupils understand the symbols, tactile diagrams are created to enable them to feel the symbols and understand what they look like. That was how I was taught at the college of education. However, I usually draw most of the symbols on the board for my pupils.

What are the barriers the disability community faces in Nigeria?

Discrimination is the biggest problem we have. People do not believe that the blind can do something meaningful in society. For example, some people do not believe that a blind man can be a broadcaster or a presenter, but as I speak with you, I work with five radio stations. When I appear on TV or Facebook, people find it difficult to believe that I am blind.

Another barrier is the orientation many Nigerians have about blind people or people with disabilities. People think that getting married to a blind person can lead to something bad. They think they can contract blindness by holding a blind person. It is a superstitious belief. We are also not given the recognition we deserve in the area of employment. Some people don’t believe that the blind can perform well in politics.

What is the biggest form of discrimination you have faced?

have many but the one that really hurt me the most is discrimination in marriage. However, I thank God that I have a beautiful wife and we are doing fine.

Can you tell me about your marriage?

I have had many disappointments in relationships. I can count about 35 ladies who disappointed me before marriage. I have been making a name for myself in broadcasting, having been a presenter for over 23 years. People who want to come close to me run away when they realise that I am a blind man.

met my wife through one of my younger brothers, who is a phone technician and who usually guides me when I want to go to a radio station to present. One day, she went to his shop to repair her phone and I was also at his shop. When I asked for her number, she declined until my younger brother persuaded her to release her number to me. That was how I got the opportunity to relate with her.

Did her parents welcome your advances?

They have not even agreed till this moment.

Did they give you a reason?

You know how Nigerians create reasons for their actions. They (her parents) said God did not tell them that their daughter would marry a blind man. They also questioned why their daughter would marry a man she would have to guide.

Did they disown her because she chose to marry you?

Yes, of course, till this moment. When we had our wedding, her parents did not attend.

Do you have children?

We are still hoping for that.

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