A country with many pitfalls

Åsa Nilsson is a companion when the National Association of the Visually Impaired visits its partner organization in Managua, Nicaragua's capital. She is amazed at how someone who is severely visually impaired or blind can cross the streets. The vehicles drive recklessly, there are sparsely guarded pedestrian crossings and in many places there are deep holes right down the street. 

- Thanks to God, I have been lucky, says Norma Alicia Espinoza who gets by on her own, but she always asks for help when she has to cross the street. 

We meet Norma at a newly opened rehabilitation center, which is part of the psychiatric organization OCN's project. Norma lost her sight eight years ago, due to diabetes. Only now does she get support to fix everyday life. 

A project for the visually impaired between the ages of 16 and 60 is underway at the rehabilitation center. Basic rehabilitation includes cane training, computer skills, braille, cooking and psychosocial support. In 2014, it is intended that the state will take over responsibility for the center. 

In school, it is important to change attitudes

En flicka med mörkt hår tittar in i kameran
Tamara Jazmina Alvarado Gutierrez

In Nicaragua, children with disabilities who have the opportunity to go to school are usually taught in special schools, up to grade six. Then they have to leave school, or start in a regular school. 

At one of the schools we meet Tamara Jazmina Alvarado Gutierrez who is 14 years old. She has previously attended a blind school but now goes with sighted students. When Tamara started at her new school, she did not want to use her white cane at first, because she was teased. 

- It is required that you are very confident. The others do not understand what you are doing, because they have never met anyone blind before, says Tamara. 

Xiomara Cuarezma Duarte, who is the assistant principal at the school, says that teachers who accept students with visual impairments are offered a voluntary training of 80 hours. 

- But the biggest obstacles are the other students, she says. 

Sandra López, Vice President of OCN, agrees and says that it is much more difficult to change attitudes than to improve the physical environment. 

In the mornings, Tamara is at the visual impairment organization and learns computer and braille. In the afternoons, her classmate Saól Trejos helps her to and from school. When the friend is away from school, Tamara does not come there either. 

The few who have jobs are doing well

Only 40 of the organization's 1,200 members have a job. Five work in the capital and the rest in the rest of the country. One of those who has a job is Santiago Jarquin. He works for a company for medicines for animals. For the past two years, Santiago has been packing veterinary medicines and taking care of the packaging machine. 

- He is an excellent worker and has no problem finding here. We often forget that he does not see, says production manager Marisol Emelhardt. 

If the company expands, they may consider hiring more people with visual impairment. Inside the packing room, Santiago is wearing a white coat and hair protection. 

- At first I was nervous because I did not know how they would treat me. After a couple of weeks, it dropped and I could talk to my co-workers, he says. 

Santiago has moved to the work area which is half an hour by bus outside Managua where his family lives. It was too difficult for him to get to and from work every day. 

What will you be doing in ten years? 

- I work or study, read English and computer skills, he answers. 

The white cane makes it possible to get around

The mother of two Maria Cristina Aguilar works as a masseur. She started with white cane two years ago. The way to get there is otherwise by bus and taxi. Transport service is missing. Maria Cristina has a reception at home or she brings the massage table to the customer. The question is how does she avoid the deep pits in the street. 

- I feel for it with the cane like this, Maria Cristina answers and sweeps elegantly with the cane across the floor in the clubhouse. 

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