White Canes for Christmas

I am delighted to introduce Judith Lesner as our guest blogger, to report on a special project with Parents Advocating for Visually Impaired Children (PAVIC), NAPVI’s Philippine affiliate.
In September 2009 Susan LaVenture and I attended the PAVIC Congress in Quezon City, Philippines. I have a long connection with the Philippines going back to my serving there with the Peace Corps from 1963 to 1966. I was planning a trip back to visit my town there when Susan told me about the conference. It was obvious that I was meant to attend as it was right around when I had planned to make my trip. Parents Advocating for Visually Impaired Children (PAVIC) is NAPVI’s Philippine affiliate and the sponsor of the three-day conference. At the conference there were teachers of the visually impaired, parents, and administrators from all over the Philippines. There were also participants from Malaysia, India, Indonesia, and other southeast Asian countries as well as representatives from the United States. At the conference I was cornered by Menchu Sarmiento who was then the executive director of the Philippine Airline Foundation. If I would gather books, equipment, and toys for Filipino children who were visually impaired, the PAL Foundation could transport them to Manila for free and she would distribute them through the foundation. I was not particularly looking for a new project at the time but Menchu can be extremely forceful and insistent. So before I knew it I had agreed to gather and send books, equipment, and toys. And so it started. With the help of the California Association of Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (CAPVI), I became extremely skilled at scrounging, scavenging, and begging. And eventually, I filled the first two 20″ X 20″ X 20″ boxes and with the help of Dottie Bridge, Board Chair of Blind Babies Foundation, we got the boxes to the San Francisco airport and to the Philippine Airlines Ticket Counter. This was the first of many trips that Dottie and I made to the airport. The over 25 boxes that we have sent came from the combined help of CAPVI, Blind Babies Foundation, California School for the Blind, Foundation for Retinal Research and many different individuals who contributed braille books, equipment, toys, and money. The content of the boxes were distributed by Menchu to PAVIC as well as various other schools and organizations serving children with visual impairments. They sent us pictures of the children with the toys, books, and equipment, and many grateful thank you letters. While our students with visual impairments here in the U.S. are exploring all the new technology available to them, those in the Philippines still are short of braille books, braillers, slates and styluses, and canes, among other supplies.