Manuela E. Gandarillas is a Rehabilitation Centre for blind children and adolescents, established in 1952 and situated in Cochabamba, Bolivia. It is designed to provide these children and adolescents with visual rehabilitation services and integration into the formal education system, seeking to leverage accessibility and assist the students in achieving independence.
It aims to help these blind youth develop the skills necessary to re-enter the regular school system and integrate themselves into society, through rehabilitation, education, early attention, social work, and workshops.
The centre currently helps thirty-five children and adolescents, of whom twenty are permanent residents and fifteen are external (the former coming from rural areas of Bolivia). These young people are blind for various reasons. There is a permanent staff of twelve, four of whom are also blind, including the director of the centre Nicomedes Flores Martinez. Manuela Gandarillas relies wholly on donations and grants, and a small yearly fee from each student, as it is a non government organisation. When Tessa Henwood-Mitchell, founder of Tia International Aid, spent time there in 2008, she could see that there were many missed opportunities due to this lack of funding. Through TIA, we are able to work in collaboration with the staff at Manuela Gandarillas and fund projects to provide the students with opportunities to improve their future prospects and realise their full potential to become independent and successful members of Bolivian society.
Music Project (Proyecto del Área de Música)
This project is centredon the education and training of blind and vision impaired youth in the field of music. The idea behind this project is to empower the youth at Manuela Gandarillas further by providing them with specialisedmusic skills which will increase their chance of future opportunities in the workplace. Music is something that everyone should be entitled to enjoy, no matter their nationality, gender, age, or religion. At Tia International Aid, and likewise at Manuela Gandarillas, we believe this should include those who are vision impaired.
Since April 2009, we have employ two skilled music teachers on a permanent basis to work for 4 hours each a week, working with the children and adolescents at Manuela Gandarillas in the areas of voice, recorder, rhythm, and theory. When Tessa returned in July of 2009, she saw the amazing work that had been achieved after only a few short months. The students had already learnt so much from the lessons, and some of them wanted to start a band. To help facilitate this, TIA bought these students a Bass Guitar which they requested to start their band. The determination and drive of these students is extraordinary, and this project has allowed them not only to show their creativity and express themselves, but it also excels the process of rehabilitation while providing skills that may lead to potential employment.
Computer Project (Proyecto del Laboratorio de Computación)
Due to the increasing reliance on technology in Bolivian society, more technical aptitude is required in the labour market, which means there is a concern that the students of Manuela Gandarillas will be left behind and further disadvantaged. Hence the centre is now looking to current technologies that will allow the students to function more easily.
The aim of the centre is to cut the bond of dependency that often exists between the visually impaired person and their educators, to ensure that the student is independent in doing their homework and in all other areas of their study. The use of current technological aids is fundamental in enabling this process of independent study.
Thus TIA has worked with Manuela Gandarillas in creating a program aimed at equipping the Rehabilitation centre with a computer lab and training program. We have provided the centre with 6 desktop computers on which we installed a specialised screen reader program called JAWS, developed for computer users whose vision loss prevents them from seeing screen content.JAWS reads aloud what is on the PC screen. We have also bought them a Braille Embosser (which is still currently being held in Bolivian Customs), allowing them to print large volumes of text and replace the labour intensive and time consuming task of creating Braille Texts by hand or by typewriter. This project was carried out at the end of 2010 when Tessa returned to Bolivia for 3 months over summer. Together with the centre we are working on ways to make this a sustainable project, aiming to find a way for the centre to produce an ongoing maintenance fund to be a safety net in case there are any technical issues with any of the equipment.
Shop Front Project
We are working with Manuela Gandarillas to set up a shop to promote work activity, independence, social communication and interaction for the children and young people at Manuela Gandarillas, as well as developing an inclusive attitude for these young people to participate and be active members of society. Through the shop we will market and sell products that the students learn to make at the rehabilitation centre, such as crafts, clothing, bags, jewellery and baked goods, with the aims to both raise money to contribute to the self-sustainability of the centre, encourage financial independence for the students, and create an inclusive and non-discriminatory culture in Bolivian society, showcasing the talents and capabilities of the students.