Posted on October 16, 2016

At Doha College, students from Primary and Secondary school participated in a ‘blind lunch’ to mark World Sight Day 2016, (Ed’s note Thursday 13 October) an annual day of awareness to focus attention on blindness and vision impairment.

Feeding oneself is one of life’s most basic tasks, repeated a number of times daily and on which our very survival depends. Doha College students experienced this task in total darkness – from finding their seats to handling the food from lunchboxes and feeding themselves. Many students did not know what lunches had been prepared for them at home, so recognising the food and appreciating its taste without seeing it was an added challenge.

They found it justifiably difficult at first, but then engaging their other senses and summoning all their powers of concentration, they managed with varying degrees of success. What all students succeeded at was understanding how incredibly different the world is to a person with blindness or visual impairment, and that darkness is a reality that is permanent for many people. From their other activities during the day, students also learned that there are 285 million people in the world who are blind or visually impaired (over 120 times the population of Qatar), and that 80% of these cases can be prevented or cured.

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Doha College organised these activities together with Orbis, who have been working with their global team of volunteers since 1982 to prevent avoidable blindness. Together with other charity partners and local hospitals, Orbis is implementing Qatar Creating Vision, a brand new initiative that provides life changing eye treatments including 5.5 million eye screenings to children in India and Bangladesh over the next four years. Through this blind lunch experience, students at Doha College tried to imagine a sightless life, and they understood that blindness takes away more than just one of the senses; it can take away education and employment, and it can lead families into a life of poverty.

Some children were so moved that they expressed their wish to go into studying medicine, or to spend their summer holidays volunteering in schools for the visually impaired, the way Doha College student Anushka Bande did at a school in Pune, India. James Conly, Vice Principal Student Services, explained the significance of this day at Doha College: “Alongside the PSHE programme at the school, it is important that students gain an awareness of the world around them, and to experience what it is like for those whose lives are different to theirs. This was a great opportunity to get in involved as part of Qatar Creating Vision and Orbis, and hopefully the students will remember and understand more about blindness and look to further support this worthwhile cause.”

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Florence Branchu, Head of Partnerships in the Middle East for Orbis and the Qatar Creating Vision initiative, told us: “Young people are the future and it is vital that this group of future leaders and influencers are aware of the big picture when it comes to the difficulties faced by those in developing countries. A child who can see is a child who has a chance for education, employment and a chance to contribute to his community and to flourish. This is why we are so thankful to Doha College for going above and beyond to celebrate World Sight Day and help us focus attention on preventable blindness.”