Is vision important for one to be visionary? To Braille Without Borders, the answer is a simple “No”.
Instead this “humble” organisation believes, given the chance, blind people too can prove to be visionaries. One such example is Braille Without Borders (BWB) founder Sabriye Tenberken, 38, who went on to gather blind Tibetan who had been left to die by society. Tenberken, who became blind at age 12,  set up a school for the blind in Tibet, which saw many blind Tibetan children going on to become self-supporting individuals.
BWB, although a small international development organisation aims to create training programmes and Braille book printing houses for blind and visually impaired people. Braille is used as the basic tool to impart literacy to the blind. BWB lives up to its tagline of “the right to be blind without being disable” by giving these blind people the chance to explore their own borders.
“Braille Without Borders” does not see borders within the realm of possibilities of people with blindness. It holds the conviction that being blind is no reason to be socially excluded and that blindness is a personal characteristic which must be viewed free of bias. It also believes that blindness is not a disability once society accepts blindness as an equal form of life and stops discriminating people for being blind.

“To BWB, people with blindness have access to opportunities that afford them to learn enabling techniques and methods that compensate for their “not seeing”. And people with blindness and visual impairments must organise and empower themselves and fight self-assuredly for equal opportunities,” says Tenberken on BWB’s website.

The organisation works at liberating blind people with the use of the Braille script to enable them to have access to literature and knowledge, both crucial tools for the blind to integrate into society.
Towards this aim, BWB is working on the realisation of an International Institute for Social Entrepreneurs (IISE) in Trivandrum, Kerala, South India.

“Nine out of 10 visually impaired children in developing countries have no access to education and BWB believes this situation can be changed, especially by visionaries who are blind/partially sighted,” she adds.

Paul Kronenberg (Dutch) and Sabriye Tenberken (German) are the founders of the organisation Braille Without Borders.
Paul Kronenberg (Dutch) and Sabriye Tenberken (German) are the founders of the organisation Braille Without Borders.

Tenberken together with Paul Kronenberg went on to create Braille Without Borders more than six years ago.

“We have established IISE where participants aged 18 and above who have the right initiative, motivation and skills will be selected, trained and empowered. Visually impaired people who have overcome obstacles in life are problem solvers and they have empathy towards social problems. Therefore, IISE will especially focus on participants who are blind and/or partially sighted,” Tenberken explains.

Applications have come in from countries like Cameroon, China, Germany, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Norway, Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Somalia. Applications are still out for motivated applicants.
The institute will start its course in January 2009. Scholarships will be provided by BWB for the first two years of the course, either through funds raised by BWB or that provided by other organisations or individuals. Applications for the course are open until September 2008.
Tenberken, an author of three books, says they were seeking motivated and talented individuals who are keen to contribute to society by setting up their own social or environmental projects in their respective regions and countries. Participants should have good command of English, both oral and written and be confident to live abroad for one year and mobile to travel alone. Preference however will be given to blind and or partially sighted candidates. Still, applications from motivated sighted people are also accepted.

“During the one year, participants will be trained in management, fund raising, public relations activities, project planning, computer technology and English, communication and soft skills. With this training they will be in a position to speak for themselves and help to change the attitudes towards marginalised groups by setting up social and/or environmental projects in their own regions or countries.”

  IISE under construction
IISE under construction

Tenberken, winner of the 2006 Mother Teresa Award and 2005 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, says to ensure the highest standards, IISE will accommodate a maximum of 40 participants. The institute will be run by a national and international team of highly trained staff. IISE is located in the pristine purity of a little village by the side of the tranquil Vellayani lake in Trivandrum, Kerala.
The campus is built in an environmental friendly ethnic style, based on the ideology of the renowned architect, the late Laurie Baker and implemented by Sajan of Costford. BWB has incorporated rain water harvesting, biogas, solar/wind energy and waste management systems along with ecosan toilets. The idea is to make this project a model for future institutions of its kind.
For more details on the training, visit BWB’s website at

story was publish on Challenges Magazine Vol 1 Issue 4, 2008.