Louise was a qualified Teacher of Visual Impairment (TVI) with twenty years of experience when she began her volunteer ministry in South East Asia eight years ago. She noticed immediately that children with visual impairment (VI) in schools were failing to acquire the literacy skills needed to access the full range of life opportunities. The teachers had no books at all when introducing Braille to pre-school children, and the majority of children (apart from the very brightest) found learning Braille a struggle. Louise wanted to change that. Her idea was to develop an enjoyment of storytelling by making a ‘tactile book’ made out of fabric that teachers and parents could share with their VI child.
Louise also began volunteering at a government research centre for Special Education, where she met a team of researchers in VI. One of the researchers was excited by Louise’s work, and – unknown to Louise – wrote a proposal for a research project making and using tactile books to improve the literacy skills of children with VI. The project began to take off.
Forty tactile books have been produced so far. Louise’s role is to design the books, and then lead and supervise a team of local volunteers to sew the books. (“I am no expert at sewing!” says Louise.) There have been challenges along the way. Volunteering is not common in the country, nor is it usual for parents and young children to sit together and share a story. Louise has noticed a positive effect on the volunteer sewers and their innermost being. “I do believe this is making them more open to hear about the Good News when the time is right.”
Louise’s hope is that, “Our books will help children of all abilities to be able to read Braille, or use other tactile means of communication, so they can thrive at school and beyond.”
Louise felt led by God to the research centre and is thankful for the doors that are beginning to open after praying for over a year for the right opportunity. Louise’s relationship with the other researchers is one of mutual respect. “I was not viewed as ‘the foreign expert’.” She feels blessed and privileged to be able to volunteer in a government body and commits time and energy into building the relationships. Sometimes there are frustrations at government decisions, but Louise is glad that she can come alongside the other researchers, and pray for them and offer an encouraging and timely word to keep going.
The latest wave of Covid led Louise to focus on this project full time. “God continued to open unexpected doors and we formed a partnership (sponsored by the International Church) with a social enterprise that gives employment to deaf people. They are making copies of six of our books so that we can use them in story-telling sessions with parents to encourage storytelling. Next we approached the City Library to ask them to host our storytelling sessions and they agreed! The children’s library has just been renovated and is now an amazing space that we hope will attract parents and inspire them to bring their children along.”
Louise knew from the beginning that the project was something God had planned and brought about. “He has led and blessed it every step of the way! I am learning to rely on God and trust in Him. I am not the project manager of this project. He is!”