We perceive the world with five senses: vision, sound, smell, taste and touch. But what happens when one of the senses is simply not available? Life seems so much easier when we see. Our goals, aims, ambitions are sparkling like fire in our eyes. No obstacle looks unmanageable, no goal incredible. But what if the road of life offers an obstruction ahead, what happens when blindness turns into a personal concern, when seeing becomes impossible?
Besarion Sologashvili was born in Tbilisi and accompanied by the chain of success since. He finished school with excellent marks (received the gold medal) as well as the Tbilisi State University, faculty of Cybernetics. He received the scientific degree and started working at the same university. His work experience was gained also at the Institute of Mathematics, Ministry of Food Production and Agriculture, calculation centers of Agricultural Scientific Academy. Later he was selected as the member of Tbilisi Municipality and Chairman of the Commission. For years he had given lectures at Tbilisi State University and Institute of Art Managers, published more than 20 scientific works about mathematical modeling and theory of optimal management. Besides his scientific achievements, he had taken up painting as a hobby and had participated in thematic and republican exhibition. But…
“About 6 years ago I started to lose sight”, Besarion Sologashvili shared. “Now I can only see 3-4% of light. Images blur in my eyes. But the biggest tragedy for me was that I could not read books any more, books that I have treasured during my whole life. My disease promises me absolute blindness soon. So, I started thinking: am I fit for doing anything again? I decided to create opportunity for myself and for the other blind people to read. Perhaps, we really start doing things when the problem becomes personal. I know a world-known mathematician who totally abandoned maths when he discovered that his child had cancer. He started to learn biology day and night in search of a cure. Then he founded his association. Thus, the stimulus is the personal interest, or rather personal tragedy”.
Mr. Sologashvili also founded the Association for the blind and partially sighted “Blind without Borders” in 2001. And the succession of useful projects took off. The first project was to assign GEL 22 pension to the first-group disabled people. The Ministry of Healthcare participated in that program that was supposed for a year only, but had been prolonged and is still being carried out. The total number of the first-group disabled in Georgia is 8600. They mostly live on pension and do not work. The cases for working blind people in Georgia are too rare. And they belong to the most vulnerable layers of society.
Later in 2001 Besarion Sologashvili by chance heard the news on the radio that the French government was announcing a grant competition “Human Rights and Disablement”. The Association “Blind without Borders” sent their project to them and passed. “It was the first success and inspiration”, Mr. Sologashvili expressed. “200 projects from 48 countries were competing and only six managed to win the grants of 100 000 French francs (about $ 14 000). “The project considered teaching the blind how to work with computers. So, the Association bought several computers and started implementing the program.
There are two principles to learn computer work: one using the Braille alphabet, when the keyboard is adapted. “However, not everyone knows the Braille alphabet. If people are blind at birth and have gone to special school, they know Braille, but after childhood it is impossible to learn that alphabet”, Mr. Sologashvili explained. For such people another method for working with computers is used: the program “Jaws for Windows” that voices the letters, symbols, words and sentences written on the screen. The user gives orders and operates in that way.
The association chose the second method, because it could be used by all categories of the blind. Out of different variants of Jaws programs, they selected the Russian variant as this language was familiar to Georgians unlike English, French or Spanish. So, they taught 80 children and adults how to work with computers according to that program.
“After winning the competition we were invited to France where at the meeting of the General Assembly the Prime Minister ceremoniously awarded us with the medal and the grant”, Besarion narrated, “they showed great honor and respect”.
“After the project I focused my attention to the most important and acute problem for the blind – reading and writing”, Besarion outlined. “When a blind person graduates from school, for some time he reads with the Braille alphabet. Mostly textbooks and very narrow literature are available on Braille alphabet. And he actually remains uneducated, he has no opportunity for any education afterwards, and, therefore, no job opportunity. There used to be factories where the blind were working but now no real work exists. The blind cannot perform physical operations, but they have big mental potential. Great antic writer Homer was blind, but this did not hamper his genius and success”.
Mr. Sologashvili insisted on telling a brief life story of Louis Braille: “He was a unique man, blind at birth. Once while crossing a bridge in Paris, he heard a small blind child ask for money. He took the child in his hands and brought him home to take care of him. One child was followed by another, so, blind himself Braille looked after several blind children. Louis Braille was very talented. He created the alphabet for the blind. Now there is the Institute of Braille in France where the blind until the age of 20 get their education and literacy. Before the building of the institute there is a statue of Louis Braille with a child in his hands. The French people has paid great honors to that man and buried him in the pantheon nearby Balzac, Hugo, etc. Louis Braille died at the age of 43 from tuberculoses”.
What Besarion Sologashvili wanted was to somehow improve the natural fault of the blind, so that the were able to read and write independently. He submitted his project of creating a Georgian computer program voicing Georgian texts to the Open Society Georgia Foundation. They supported financially his idea and the problem was solved. Now a blind man can type in Georgian on the computer and read (listen to the robot reading). This program was followed by a reading hall at the National Public Library. International organization Mercy Core financed the Association for that. “We placed three computers there and all the necessary facilities and now this reading hall is functioning”, Mr. Sologashvili said.
His main goal had always been to raise the intellectual level of the blind. So he decided to record books voiced by the actors. The association has even created a studio where they are working currently on recording books on CDs. “This will be equally useful for both the blind and ordinary people”, they think.
The current project of the association “Blind without Borders” that is submitted to the Ministry of Education is making the center for professional education where the blind people having finished school can go and learn the profession. It appears that there are about 70 professions that the blind can learn: music, computers, radio programs, massage, synchronic translation, telephone operations, etc. “With the help of our program, the blind can also work as editors in publishing houses. I myself have edited my own book by that”, Mr. Sologashvili said.
He had finished his first book “What are you looking for, man?” that combines his philosophic and religious ideas in feature style and very close-to-heart language.
“The most important is that the blind do not feel odd in life. So that the blind man feels he has his own place in the society, is integrated with it. I think that it is mental not physical work that gives the blind chance to take the deserved place in life and society”, Besarion Sologashvili assumed.
The world has already chosen how to deal with blindness. They say, it is not a fault of nature, it is just a characteristic that sometimes may become a nuisance. The man may be unsighted, but he is never blind. Sometimes he can see more than other people, and see there where we will never even think to look.
“Georgia today”, 2005, 18-24 March, p. 4, 9.