Posts Tagged ‘Braille without Borders’

Reid My Mind Radio: For the Love of Honey

Wednesday, October 11th, 2017

Picture of Ojok Simon in front of a blue covered background.

This third segment features Ojok Simon. Attacked as a boy in Uganda by the infamous army of Joseph Kony, hear his journey to becoming one of the first three Holman Prize winners as an Entrepreneur who is about more than just bizzzzness!

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Transcript

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TR:
What’s up RMM Radio Family…I’m excited for another Holman Prize winner story, but I’m also a little down. It’s the third in the series of 3!
Well when I get down, I sing the blues.

[Audio: Muddy Waters, Honey Bee]

TR:
Nah, I’m not blue! Let’s Go!

[Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme Music]

TR:

Today we conclude our three part series featuring
all of the Holman Prize recipients.

The prize is named in honor of James Holman. Known as the Blind Traveler, Holman completed a series of solo journeys taking him to all inhabited continents.

Sponsored by the San Francisco Lighthouse $25,000 is given to each of the winners who are all legally blind and in their own way exhibit the adventurous spirit and attitude of James Holman

In order to meet our third winner, I had to travel to Uganda in East Africa. Well, via Skype!

Ojok:

I am Ojok Simon from Uganda. I am from the northern district of Gulu.

I was a child growing up in a rural community. I used to play a lot with all my fellow peers. We enjoyed hunting for wild honey . We liked playing hide and seek games. I used to have a lot friends. many people would come and play around with me . they would come to listen to my stories . I liked creating jokes . I liked giving tough predictions in the future. So I’m that kind of crazy person.

My ambition was to be a military doctor.

TR:
Sounds like what we would think about as life for a young boy.

However, during the late 1980’s
Joseph Kony came into power and his Lord’s Resistance Army
terrorized Northern Uganda.

The LRA is Known for forcing children to serve in their army and
all sorts of brutal atrocities.
At 9 years old, Ojok’s home in Gulu was the site one such incident.

Ojok:

They found me and my mother were still in the house. And they thought that being a child I was going to run away. So they started to beat me at the temple of my head using the butt of the gun. I fell down with a lot of pain. I didn’t know and my parents didn’t know that there was that kind of internal injuries of my sight. After three years they started to realize that my vision started deteriorating and there was no medical attention that I could seek because everybody, every area was in war. The doctors live in fear so you can’t get medical attention. After five years I had to go and join the blind school. Even when I was trying to seek the medical attention through the blind school there was no equipment so that they could help me so I had to remain with the condition like that.

TR:
That condition Ojok described is low vision. It’s important to note that the School for the Blind in Uganda doesn’t take acuity into consideration when creating the curriculum. Everyone is taught Braille for example, large print is not an option.

Another part of his studies included what Ojok refers to as psycho social support or therapy, which is what helped him eventually come to terms with the
permanence of his condition.

Yet, at 9 years old with lots of friends looking up to Ojok that adjustment had to be difficult.

Ojok:
When I was growing up as a boy among my friends I used to like Football. I used to play like a goal keeper so when my vision started losing I started losing friends because I could not handle the ball the way they feel like their leader should be. They said you are blind so cannot associate yourself with us. Life became horrible. To make the matters worse we used to love hunting for wild honey.

[TR in conversation with Ojok]
I don’t know anything about hunting for honey, like what is that process like?

Ojok:
Hunting for wild honey, it’s wild honey ok… of course we live in a community where a lot of bees swarm ok. They keep moving around looking for their house so that they could get accommodated like the hive, but people doesn’t take care of providing a house for the. Now the bees will end up handing on the big thick trees .

[TR in conversation with Ojok]

When they find that honey, there’s no bees there? The bees are somewhere else?

Ojok:
No the bees will also be there because they live together and protect the honey because you know honey is a food for bees as well.

[TR in conversation with Ojok]

… right, but how do you deal with the bees when you’re trying to take the honey?

Ojok:
They do it in a local way. They will get fire and they will burn the bees. Now when the bees run away, that’s when they will harvest the honey. They will not take care of the bees. Now for me it became a challenge because imagine with your poor vision climbing up the trees and trying to move and walk on the branches, balancing so that you can go and remove the honey. So since for me I like also moving in the bush during the daytime because I have some little sight I would get where the honey nests are but at night I could not locate the situation so my peers use that opportunity so that they can get the wild honey . They would take it to their grandparents, they will receive a lot of praises, they would sing them that they are great men and served them with the good food. So now I’m missing those love from my grandparents.

TR:
Chances are, you’re like me. You probably don’t know much about wild honey and didn’t realize it had such value. As we will see, this is just the bee ginning of all this sweet nectar has to offer.

Ojok:

While I was pursuing my studies one day during holiday… Remember I told you that we are also in the war torn area, people then were taken to concentration camps. I was now walking around our broken home where we used to stay. Now while I was walking around there, bees were stinging me from all directions. Then with my poor vision I was trying to run. The direction where I was running that was where the bees were coming from . Then I came across an abandoned clay pot. it was just on the ground. There were bees in that clay pot and I said wow now what can I do. Then I went back home and I came back now because this is on the ground and is in the area where I know , then I harvested the honey. I took it to my mother. She became happy eating the honey.

TR:

Realizing he could easily harvest the honey from this more accessible method, Ojok devised a plan. While his mother was out of the house, Ojok
helped himself to one of her clay pots.

Ojok:

Who has taken this pot of mine… who has taken this pot of mine?

I don’t know… I even denied so, I got the pot and took it next to the one I found in the abandoned home and left those there. Now two pots. I went back to school. Now during another holiday I came back and found both pots are colonized with the honey. And that became the turning point for me.

TR:

Harvesting the honey, Ojok was once again able to surprise his mother.

Ojok:

I took it to my mother and she said hey where are you always getting this honey. I said yes, I have my techniques.

TR:
Ojok admitted to his mother that part of his technique included taking her pot…
His make shift hives produced more honey than his family could consume.

Ojok:

Some of my friends, they started being friendly to me because they want to eat the honey. If you want to eat the honey be my friend so that I can sell you.

TR:

Hiving Bees and harvesting the honey using
clay pots isn’t very sustainable. Drawing the bees away with fire in order to gather the honey, kills some of the bees. Reading more about the process of Bee Keeping in Africa Ojok invested in a new type of hive, while still pursuing his Bachelor’s degree.

Ojok:

I found now they were selling a hollow tree. They would cut the log of a tree then they would produce a hole inside. There are doors so that the bees would stay inside. Bee keeping was not for commercial or social change but just because I love eating honey I want to get praises. So I just continue with the bee keeping. After my formal studies I returned back to my village. I started doing human rights activism for people with disability through the convention on the rights of people with disabilities.

TR:
As an advocate, Ojok was informing others with disabilities about their human rights and how they could live independently.

Remember, Bee keeping to Ojok was a hobby, but his advocacy work led to his discovery of more possibilities.

Ojok:

Then I started meeting some of my fellow blind people that we used to live with them during the school time, but they did not finish their studies. And now they were saying their poor. they don’t have any source of income. I would spend all of my salary on them. When they asked me for soap, I’d give them. When they asked me for something little I’d give them. Then I asked myself self, how long would I keep on helping people like this? Is this really sustainable?

TR:

Ojok’s two original clay pots turned into 12 income producing hives. He wondered why such an idea couldn’t do the same for others.

Ojok:

They don’t have any source of income but for me I’m getting my normal salary. But on another side, my hives are also there. After 7 years I resigned. I decided to go for Entrepreneurship training in India with the organization called Kanthari, which is Braille without Borders.

[Audio: Oprah Winfrey Show featuring sabriye tenberken]

TR
sabriye tenberken started the first school for the blind in Tibet – where blindness is viewed as a curse for something done in a prior life. This school formed the foundation of Braille Without Borders, an organization empowering blind people to take their lives in their own hands.

In 2005 she co-founded kanthari in Kerala, South India. Kanthari fosters participants from all over the world, who, like Sabriye, have a passion to make the world a better place and the strength to be forces of good rather than victims of circumstance.

A kanthari is a plant that grows wild in every backyard of Kerala, a small but very spicy chili with a number of medicinal values. It’s also a symbol for those who have the guts to challenge harmful traditions and the status quo, who have fire in their belly and
a lot of innovative ideas to make a positive difference.

Ojok:
Then I came back. I started now launching my idea venture of providing employment to blind people. Then I started training 22 blind and low vision both men and females from the age of 20 and above. My target is to target those who are already out of school so that they can get employment.

I give them start up kits, like the bee hive. I give them 5 of them each. Then later I started giving them an improved type of bee hive which I too have it’s called Top Bar.

[TR in conversation with Ojok]

Top Bar!

Ojok:
Then I follow them up and I build their capacity and I add them two top bar each.

[TR in conversation with Ojok]

So what’s the difference between that and the other one, the traditional one?

Ojok:
The top bar will produce more honey and then would last longer than the traditional hive.

TR:

The initial 22 students, turned into 38. The lessons, go beyond harvesting honey and
include orientation and mobility, leadership skills

Ojok:

Now something I could not provide they can advocate for their own needs, because bee keeping might not answer all their problems. But it’s just like a spring board.

They started realizing that yes they are human beings. For instance, among the 38 people that I already trained which are practicing bee keeping, three of them actually they have grown more than my capacity. They became recognized in the society even they are now elected leaders to go and defend people who are visually impaired with the local government in the community – which is above me. Even I call them my boss… (laughs)

[TR in conversation with Ojok]

Laughs… How does that feel?

Ojok:
Actually, I feel relief. Inside me I said yes, this is what I want to do. Like a bearing in a bicycle, the bearing is very tiny but it play an important role of making the bicycle to go faster. So I just said yes I’m not being seen but I can see the impact. This has given me the answer I have been looking for.

TR:

Ojok was already seeing some success with his venture. Learning of the Holman Prize competition through his kanthari mentor he submitted his video.

[Audio from Ojok Holman Prize Ambition Video

Ojok:
I would use the prize to empower blind and partially sighted person to be bee keepers in their home. Beneficiaries will be trained in different types of bee hives, introduction to be keeping, honey harvesting, mobility and orientation and they will be sent back to their home to work in their own bee farm. And five years from now I can see blind and partially sighted person being great entrepreneurs…]

Ojok:
When I found out I was a winner I said I can’t believe it…

I think my answer is being well known globally. It’s not only in Uganda because my biggest dream is to create an incubation center that will provide more employment for people with visually impairment through bee keeping by creating a honey factory where they would also now process their honey and they would market and they would do all those things. Those who might not practice bee keeping those who are skillful in other demonstration work and they would also be brought in the system. So after saying that hey I’m I winner I said yes my answer is coming slowly by slowly and I think one day the whole world will know that there are a certain group of visually impaired persons in east Africa in Uganda who are providing the world with tropical honey that is very healthy.

TR:

Creating big goals and achieving them isn’t new to this Holman Prize winner.

Ojok:

I’m the first visually impaired person in my district to go up to the university so I had to show that I can bear fruits. If everything dwells on me then I would carry a lot of burdens. I need them to start carrying their own burdens, but at the moment they’re still dealing with low self-esteem a lot of stigmatization, negative attitude… they still believe in the status quo that if you are disabled or you are visually impaired you cannot do any developmental thing which makes them not so productive.

[TR in conversation with Ojok]

Yeh, and so they start to feed into that mind set and start to believe it and then that’s it, once they believe it they stay there.

Ojok:
Exactly!

TR:

Like James Holman, Ojok Simon has ventured out beyond his immediate surroundings. Forming the right relationships with others who
can support his journey like;
His instructors at Kanthari in India providing Entrepreneurship training.
Working with mentors like Italian Bee Keepers to learn state of the art methods in bee keeping.
Capturing the attention of the San Francisco Lighthouse to
help expand not only his financing but
chances are increasing his exposure and helping him make more relationships to help reach that goal

In the book A Sense of the World, Howa Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler; author Jason Roberts writes about Holman’s encounter’s with François Huber – who Robert’s writes was the most famous blind man in the world at that time.

Losing his sight at 15, Huber’s research is said to have laid the foundations of the scientific knowledge of the life history of the
honey bee.

[TR in conversation with Ojok]

What have you learned from your experience. I mean from that moment where you were 9 and you were getting brutality attacked. It sounds like you had several years of therapy. The dealing with the loss and all of that it sounds like that probably helped you a great deal but in general how do you look back on your life?

Ojok:
When I look back, look back on myself right now I would just say good enough it happened when I was still a child and I managed to cope with the situation, that’s one.

And then two, the best important thing is to have accept yourself the way you are and then learn how to live with it. I’ve learned my weakness and how I can turn my weaknesses into opportunities.
And also I say yes, having the heart of forgiveness. you need to forgive one another. If these people who had beaten me I could get them you’ll just derail yourself from mercy. You just waste a lot of your energy for nothing. You need to forgive them because maybe they did it not knowing . Maybe also they were under certain influences. If they were to come across me I think they would also realize that I’m not saying I’m in a better situation but I might have the material to also help them. If you have the heart of forgiveness even to those of my friends who used to insult me … I’ve forgiven them and now we are still good friends.

[TR in conversation with Ojok]

Wow, how long did that take you to get to that point because, that’s not just about blindness that’s life. And just about everybody can use that. What got you there?

Ojok:
When I look back…

It was a gradual process. One the formal education that I went through. I was feeding my brain with knowledge and though I not yet done it that much, I need to go for my Master’s in the future. It makes me to start analyzing each and every persons act and I say yes maybe they are doing that out of ignorance. Maybe they are doing that because they have not reached the level I have reached. So it took me more than 10 to 15 years when I started learning yes, I need to do this, I need to forgive, I need to accept my situation. I need to learn and do things.

slowly by slowly I was meeting different
characters.

I remember one of my good mentors from Uganda. Sorry she lost her life. She was my good teacher, I think she was also in the World Blind Union that is the late Sandira Frances. She was a totally blind person and she managed to struggle with her life and I was able to learn (from her).

Wherever she is she also feels happy that yes I’ve left somebody who is helping to carry on the work that I’ve been doing.

TR:

Carrying on the work, that sounds like what the Holman Prize is all about.

This brings to mind the African American proverb that dates back to a time it was illegal for enslaved Africans in America to know how to read.

Understanding the power of knowledge those who did learn would teach another. Encouraging them to do the same with the phrase; Each one teach one.!

Blinded as a young boy, Ojok Simon’s life could have easily went down a different path. His ability to find the sweet honey among the destruction left behind in a torn community, wasn’t a onetime thing.

That’s how he appears to live his life.

Ojok is currently engaged and has four children. That includes two young girls who were orphaned and he decided to adopt in order to help spare them what in those circumstances is often a dark future.

If you want to learn more about Ojok’s plans or maybe even see how you can support his goal , you can reach him through his organization’s website. HiveUganda.org.

The official place to learn more about the Holman Prize and even follow the progress of the winners is HolmanPrize.org.

I’m hoping each of these winners will be interested in speaking with me in the future about their progress experiences and of course lessons learned.

I’m Thomas Reid, for Gatewave Radio,

[Ojok from interview: “I love eating honey, I want to get praises!”]

audio for independent living!

[Barbara Streisand’s “Queen Bee” from A Star is Born
The beat loops with background singing what sounds like a bee buzzing….
acapella we hear her sing… “The Queen Bee’s never gonna be alone”
]

## TR:

How freaking cool was that!

I didn’t think this interview was going to happen. I mean connecting via Skype and speaking with someone in my own state can be a challenge. Here’s how it went down.

[Audio collage of TR attempting to get in touch with Ojok via Skype… includes sounds of me drumming on my desk to the Skype music… After multiple attempts which included failure due to storms in Uganda we connected.]

TR:
But Ojok was able to increase his bandwidth on the fly.

I heard about the sophistication of the cell phone market in Africa. So much of the continent’s commerce is done via telephone transactions. The wireless market made that possible without the infrastructure required for wired services.

The cool thing about technology, remember is not the technology but rather what we do with it.

Sort of like the honey… Ojok is harnessing that natural resource to empower others.

This in itself is a powerful statement. If you know anything about how Africa has been repeatedly been robbed of its natural resources, maybe this story takes on another meaning for you.

Big shout out to Ojok Simon, Ahmet Ustunel and Penny Melville-Brown, the first class of Holman Prize Winners.

Join me in wishing them the most success… do what winners do yawl… keep winning!

You too can keep winning… you know what you have to do right?

Subscribe to this podcast on Apple Podcast, Google Play, Stitcher, Tune In Radio or Sound Cloud. Then tell 3 friends…. why three… I told you when we started this series…
[Audio. De La Soul… 3 is the Magic Number!]

[RMMOutro]
Peace

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