Blind woman teaches blind in India

By Rob Cullivan/Catholic Courier    |    02.18.2005
Category: Features


BRIGHTON -- Selling trinkets and toys in a train station is one way for impoverished blind people to make a living in India. But Ann K. Parsons, a parishioner at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish, recently helped such people take a train to a better way of life.

Parsons, who is blind, is a professional language-arts and social-studies tutor. In addition to tutoring both sighted and blind students, she specializes in training blind people or those with physical disabilities in computer use. She put her skills to work in India by teaching poor, blind students how to use computers.

"These were bright people," Parsons said of the students she trained in Bangalore, India, which Parsons called the "Silicon Valley" of India. "Their only problem was that circumstances prevented them from obtaining their dreams. What they were trying to do was upgrade their incomes."

Her friend, Patricia Rex, who is sighted, accompanied Parsons to India to assist her. Rex said the students' plight moved Parsons deeply.

"She has a real heart for these people because she knows what it's like," Rex said of her friend. "I could almost see her weeping at the thought of these intelligent men selling handkerchiefs on a train when they could speak three or four languages, but they couldn't be employed."

Parsons -- whose trip to India was funded by $4,000 in donations from her fellow parishioners at Queen of Peace, as well as friends -- worked through the Ann Foundation, which assists schools and organizations in India, Guyana and Africa. The foundation focuses on providing children with disabilities a better life through education, and maintains a Web site at www.annfoundation.org.

Parsons and Rex traveled to India Dec. 26 and returned Jan. 10. Parsons noted that there are 20 million blind people in India, and many are young, unlike in the United States where better medical care has resulted in a decrease in ailments leading to blindness among infants and young people.

She noted that she and Rex stayed at a local orphanage, the Mercy Home, which is run by an Irish charity. The home maintains a Web site at www.mercyhomekids.org. Parsons said that she taught at the orphanage's education center.

As a blind person, Parsons said that she listens to the sounds of the environment around her, and was particularly struck by the prayer calls emanating from a local mosque on a daily basis. She added that whenever the sun went down, countless dogs began to howl in the area around her.

"I thought, 'Oh boy, they wouldn't last very long in Brighton,'" she said with a laugh.

She taught the students basic computer usage for up to four hours a day, she said.

"They had had some typing, but nothing else," Parsons said of her students, who ranged in age from 16 to 30.

In a mere 10 days, Parsons said her five blind students were using Microsoft Word to write in complete English-language sentences, an impressive feat given they had to type on a computer and write in a second language.

"Talk about multitasking," she said with a chuckle.

Parsons added that she trained two sighted teachers in computer use as well.

Parsons said she hopes to return to Bangalore again someday and spend much more time training students as well as teachers. She noted that her own parents raised her to become self-sufficient, and that she wishes to share the same gift of independence with her students, one of whom moved her deeply.

"One of the things he said to me was 'Please pray for us so that we can stand on feet,'" she said.

EDITOR'S NOTE: At 6:45 p.m. April 12, Parsons will give a presentation on her trip to India at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish, 601 Edgewood Drive, Brighton.

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