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Teachers: Citizenship: Globalisation Social

Last Updated: Monday February 27 2006 13:32 GMT

Case study: Kyle from the UK


Kyle is a teenager from the UK. He's been writing to his pen pal Ibrahim for three years.

Ibrahim lives in Sierra Leone but they've have had the chance to meet up as their schools are twinned.

They communicate using Braille typewriters as they're both blind.

Before you became pen pals what did you think Sierra Leone would be like?

I honestly didn't have a clue and I wasn't going to start making assumptions because I probably would have ended up putting them in the letter. I knew things were pretty hard, obviously because of the war. I'd been told by my teachers. I knew there were vehicles out here. But I didn't know there were going to be as many cars going along the road as there is. There's quite a few traffic jams here which I didn't expect. The roads in built-up areas are smoother than I expected. I'd heard the roads had got pot holes in and the roads were dirt tracks so naturally I expected it to be as bumpy as anything and for them to be using great big four-wheel drive vehicles everywhere. But it's not the case. Some of the roads are very smooth.

What have you learnt about what the people are like?

When I started writing to Ibrahim, I thought that he was a very nice person. When the five pupils came over from the school I heard Ibrahim being interviewed by somebody. He was speaking about the war as casually as I'm sitting here talking to you now. I was astounded and surprised. How can you talk about such horrific things that have gone on in your country? I heard about the atrocities that had gone on and I was very shocked. And I know that if that had gone on in my country I would probably find it very distressing to talk about it, but Ibrahim was talking to the reporter as if it was fine. I was very curious to know about the war but I didn't ask questions out of respect for the people of Sierra Leone. Can you imagine how it would be if someone visiting your country came up to you and asked what is was like being in the war? I would have thought that they'd be quite upset about that. But they're all very happy, they're all very jovial.

Despite how poor they are, they'll always try and give you something. When they sell things to you, they don't ask for a lot of money. They're very nice people, they've very lovely personalities out here. They'll all stop and talk to you as if they've known you for years. And that's not something I'm used to. It's brilliant and I'm going to live out there.

What do you think your biggest problem is - your disability or other people's attitudes towards it?

The biggest problem is other people's attitudes towards it. A lot of British people don't recognise the cane. They don't call it a cane. They say: "Have you got your stick?" which makes it sound like your dragging a twig along in front of you. They're not as understanding as I would like them to be.

I'm perfectly capable of being independent. My eyes don't work, not my brain. My brain is perfectly capable of thinking, my eyes do not work. My other senses make up for that. There is a generalisation that 80 per cent of learning goes through your eyes. But if you are blind your other senses will make up for that. The 80 per cent which could have been lost through your eyes not working is put back through touch, acute hearing or your sense of smell.

A lot of people work under the assumption that because my eyes are not working I'm not as intelligent as anybody else. That's not true, not the case, I'm just as intelligent as anybody else on this planet I hope.

A lot of people in Britain will ask me questions through my parents. A lot of my parents' friend will ask them how I am. And I'm standing right next to them, I can perfectly answer for myself. They think you need a spokesperson. I'm not going to blame anybody, there's no blame involved. It's not black and white. I think people's understanding and awareness of how disability works needs to be put across.

If you could change one thing about how blind people are treated in Britain, what would you change?

There's a lot I'd like to change that's not going to change. I'd just like people to be more understanding. I think this film (shot for BBC Breakfast) should be shown for one thing. I think there should be a lot of things that say: "Hey we're here." We can speak. I think there should be something along the lines of posters, signs or advertising an establishment run by a disabled person, like a restaurant. I think it should be pointed out that disabled people can run establishments or do whatever is being advertised just as well as anyone else. There aren't many people who do discriminate, but something should be done within advertising to show people what we can do.

What do you think about the fact that disabled people have no equal rights in law and what you think their opportunities are out here?

They don't have any legislation out here for visually impaired people. I know they're trying to introduce more rights, but I'm not sure what's entailed. In comparison with Britain, the government are a lot more understanding. In Britain they're trying to make public transport more accessible for wheelchairs. When busses stop, they go down to the same level as the kerb. I've not seen anything go on out here. I've not seen wheelchairs to be honest.

I think I'm being very harsh because they've had a war recently. They're still rebuilding the country's infrastructure. It's going to take time to restore law and order back to ordinary people, let alone bring in rights for disabled people. The war's over, but if you think about the atrocities etc. I think they're doing very well. It's obviously not going to happen overnight.

Are you worried about what will happen to the students at Ibrahim's school once they leave school?

I'm very worried about what's going to happen to them. Because these laws are not going to take effect overnight. I don't know whether it will be before or after Ibrahim leaves.

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