News Release

Closing Ceremony for Training of the Blind in Barbados


On Wednesday August 29, 2018, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Barbados Bridgetown Mission, held the closing ceremony for their most recent training session with the blind community of Barbados.

In earlier phases of training, the Church’s Humanitarian and Welfare Department has donated equipment to the School for the Blind and conducted independence training for visually impaired/blind individuals. President of the National United Society of the Blind President Kerry-Ann Ifill, and Rudyard Welch have both worked with the Church to facilitate training and maximise benefits to the local community.

The closing activity took place at the Black Rock Chapel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, located on Black Rock Main Road. Elder Fielden conducted the meeting, and the opening prayer was said by Mary Sayers-Nicholls, after which Brother Ron Gardner, himself blind, thanked Kerry-Ann Ifill, Rudy Welch, trainers Deja Powell and missionary couple Elder and Sister Fielden. He gave an overview of the entire project, informing those present of the previous phases, including the involvement of Sir Trevor Carmichael who pioneered certain legislation and programmes of reading to the blind. The donation of computers and JAWS Screen Reader Software to the lab, donations to the Irving Wilson School for the Blind were also mentioned. Brother Gardner said that they were helping to train blind people to become independent, to use the cane, and to find their way around a kitchen, for example, all as part of the basis for daily living. To this end, the local training also encompasses teaching new local teachers, and raising the level of expectation. He mentioned Rudy Welch, who spent significant time in the USA as part of his own training to be able to teach others.

Kerry-Ann Ifill spoke next, strongly urging the sighted not to take their sight for granted, and re-iterating that the Church’s training fosters independence and created good examples for others to follow: “If they can, then I can,” she said. She vividly described that day’s adventure of travelling from the Main Guard to Cave Shepherd in Bridgetown, led by Elder Gardner, who had never visited Bridgetown before! The participants, she said, made it successful, despite some initial nervous moments. The Bajan public, she discovered, were not used to seeing a large group of blind people travelling via public transport on a minibus!

The next speaker was trainer Deja Powell, who told of the day’s journey on a minibus, ably led by young Lavonne Williams, whose sense of self and confidence had grown over the three days of training. Over 200 students have been trained in the past 10 years, and they hold a special place in her heart, as witnessed by the many stories she tells her husband Lucas.

Rudyard (Rudy) Welch, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spoke next, describing his life since losing his sight some 10 years ago. He described his eight weeks of training in Salt Lake City, Utah, in the USA as, “Intense, frightening and terrifying.” Yet, he said, he emerged stronger and more determined to encourage other blind people to be as independent as they wanted to be. The Gardners, he said, were inspirational, and he described the experience as a learning process, while praising the positive influence and unity of the participants, borrowing the Obama campaign’s phrase of “Yes, we can!” to emphasise that unity is strength.

Elviston (Elvis) Maloney, from the Barbados Association for the Blind and Deaf, also spoke of his experiences, going back to previous stages of this training. He and his organization were involved in the beginning 2016 phases involving computers and training, but not directly in this latest phase.

Other participants spoke, each sharing their own anecdotes and experiences, their emotional roller-coaster rides as they overcame initial panic, figured out how to solve problems and literally navigate through unknown territory. Of particular note were Janeil Odle, a graduate of the Barbados Community College and currently a law student at the University of the West Indies, and Lavonne Williams, whose indomitable spirit provided a good example for the group.

Elder Fielden concluded the proceedings with acknowledgements of all the contributors while Sister Gardner said the closing prayer.

The purpose of Church humanitarian work is to (1) relieve suffering, (2) foster self‐reliance and (3) provide opportunities for service. The Gardners are church member volunteers who willingly donate their time and efforts to helping others.

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