Francis Odongo uses braille to build strong bonds with his students.
When Odongo first started teaching at Bishop Willis Demonstration School in Iganga, Uganda, there was only one staff member trained to transcribe learning materials into braille – the tactile system of reading and writing used around the world by people who are blind.
This created a backlog at the school that was hampering the education of dozens of students with visual impairment. So Odongo, now a member of Perkins International’s Educational Leadership Program (ELP), decided to take matters into his own hands.
“I saw the need for the children,” said Odongo, who is sighted. “I developed an interest and started learning the braille alphabet, letter by letter. It was not easy.”
Now Odongo is fluent in braille. He transcribes class notes and other materials for his students in a timely manner and can offer instant feedback on their written assignments.
“They really feel so happy when someone who is braille-literate like me can teach them,” said Odongo. “It makes their learning easier and they feel at home. They come to me all the time with questions about their writing and other subjects.”
Odongo is one of 11 ELP participants currently studying on the campus of Perkins School for the Blind. The nine-month program offers advanced training to teachers of the visually impaired and other professionals from developing nations.
At Perkins, Odongo is learning new assessment techniques for identifying vision and hearing disabilities. When he returns to Uganda, he hopes to hold an assessment clinic for students at Bishop Willis and share all that he’s learned with staff at the school.
“I am so happy to be here at Perkins,” said Odongo. “I am learning many new things. I will share them with my colleagues and improve services for our students.”
Odongo also hopes to change society’s perception of children with disabilities by reaching out to village leaders, government officials and medical professionals.
“These children need our support,” he said. “It’s important not to underestimate them.”
Odongo has worked as a primary school teacher at Bishop Willis since 2005. He is one of four teachers at the school to receive training from Perkins International as part of the Uganda School Health and Reading Program, which has improved reading and health education for approximately 43,000 students with special needs across the East African nation.
Odongo also received brailler repair training from Perkins. He has a small workshop at the school, where he keeps his students’ braille-writing machines in top working order.
When he’s not teaching his students or repairing braillers, Odongo spends his free time coaching youth sports teams and leading the Bishop Willis school choir.
“Sports and music are just other ways of teaching,” he said. “There is no time for resting. The motivation comes from my love for my work and for these children.”