Impact of a Short Conversation

by James Edwards

Attending a national convention always has a lasting impact on you. It makes you appreciate the work that our leaders, and their predecessors, have accomplished on our behalf. 

At conventions, you see a plethora of people working together, volunteering their time and energy to accomplish what needs to be done. And they do it humbly, without any concern for personal recognition. A good example of this occurred at the 2010 convention, when Brenda Dillon and her husband, Dan, were recognized with an award for their many contributions to ACB. 

The award came as a complete surprise and brought tears to Brenda's eyes, as well as Cindy Van Winkle's, who was presenting the award. But the humbleness came through when Dan Dillon said, "This award is wonderful and greatly appreciated, but the real reason we work so hard for ACB is because it is a labor of love. We do it because it comes from our hearts." 

That's the attitude that is most apparent at the ACB national conventions. But what really made an impact on me personally was a short conversation I had with the man driving the cab when I went from the airport to the hotel. 

This man was from Nairobi, Kenya, and with his broken English, he told me, almost emotionally, how he had been overwhelmingly touched that week by the contact he had with so many blind people. He couldn't believe the ability, and the freedom, blind people in America have to travel around the country to attend a convention, to take care of business, or just to visit relatives. He told me blind people in his country have nothing: no assistance, no employment, no life, no hope. He told me we have no idea how fortunate we are, to have all that we do. 

So I pondered on this conversation for a couple of days, and then I found a computer I could use and researched blindness in Africa. The majority of articles on the internet deal with the positive aspects of the organizations who are trying to help the blind in Africa. But if you look hard enough, you will find articles that really substantiate the cab driver's story. 

Here are some excerpts from an article I found on the British Broadcasting Corporation news page. 

The headline reads, "Africans have been urged to revise their attitude towards the blind by a major international eyesight charity." The article states, "Many African societies shun their blind as too much of a burden, with some left to perish or else to survive on minimal help." But the prevalence of blindness-causing diseases and problems in the continent has led to a call for change. "Sight issues are a big problem in Sierra Leone, as well as in the rest of the West Africa region," Dennis Williams of Sightsavers International told the BBC. "Because of the inability of people to work with blind people, blind people are treated very badly and left to sit behind their houses while other people do their normal day's work. Blind people are considered not capable of earning an income, not capable of contributing to their communities, their homes, their families, their society." 

Dr. Hannah Fahl of Nigeria states, "Africa is one of the most affected areas globally as far as blindness is concerned, not just in the relevant rate of blindness, but in the actual numbers of people who are affected." 

The tragedy is that for Africa, 80 percent of the causes of blindness in Africa are preventable. 

"One problem is that we are not giving people enough information for them to take care of their own eyes," Dr. Fahl said, adding that, with all of the continent’s problems, eye care was simply "not a priority." 

For the next few days at the convention, I listened to people talking about the different issues that are so important to us, and I couldn't help but think how petty they are compared to the problems affecting the blind African villager, or the blind man living in the city of Nairobi, with no hope. 

What I took personally from the national convention in Phoenix is a great appreciation for all that we, as a blind community, have, a great appreciation for all that ACB means to us, and, thanks to a short conversation with a cab driver from Nairobi, a great compassion for the people of the world who do not have what we have. Sometimes you need to step back and count your blessings. The American Council of the Blind is really a blessing to all of us.