Preparing the Visually Impaired for Work, and Life

Publication Date: 
June 10, 2014

In Thailand, the visually impaired inhabit the margins of society. Millions of men, women and children have literally been cast aside -- deemed “third-class” citizens incapable of meaningful work. In the capital city of Bankok, Salesian missionaries are preparing previously marginalized young adults for careers, and life -- by teaching them a traditional art.

Each year at the Salesian-run Nonthaburi Skills Development Center for the Blind, 40 students embark on an intensive two-year program. Recently approved by the Ministry of Public Health, this program offers visually impaired students the opportunity to become practitioners of Thai traditional massage. Together, these therapists-in-training see more than 150 clients each day. What’s more, most find work immediately after graduation.

While the road to the center’s success has been paved with good intentions, it also involved a measure of trial and error.

“A Belgian priest and I were the first Salesians in Thailand,” recalls Fr. Carlo Verlado, director of the center. “We didn’t know much about what we were doing then, so we just winged it.”

“When I first started,” he continues, “the common perception was that the blind could only do two things: Sell lottery tickets, or work as phone operators.”

To combat that perception, Fr. Verlado and his team of educators began teaching students trades like carpentry and woodworking. Unfortunately, while some graduates landed decent jobs, most would-be employers balked at the thought of workplace injuries and the higher costs of insuring visually impaired employees.

“Given the resistance to what we were trying to do, we rethought our program, found two excellent instructors, and launched the new massage school,” says Fr. Verlando.

Salesians specialize in responding to specific needs such as this -- developing customized trade education programs that go far beyond career training. In addition to learning valuable job skills, students at the center participate in activities that foster their physical development and self-confidence: through judo, baseball, bicycle riding and competitive running.

Through intentional planning, an unwavering commitment to defend the rights of the disabled, and the development of specialized training, Fr. Verlado and his team are helping visually impaired youth not only to gain their independence -- but also transition from a state of social isolation to one of inclusion and productivity.

Our mission empowers marginalized youth around the globe in places where it is needed most -- helping them learn valuable skills, find meaningful work, and rediscover their confidence. What’s your mission?

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