Wednesday, January 4, 2017

My Super-Hero: Louis Braille

When Nature snatched my sight at age 11, initially it was so hard for me to accept the New World that I had to go through! I never thought that I could read and write as quickly as others who would read by looking on the paper and write with pen. I eventually learned that if one door of our life closes, the another door opens enabling us to enter into the same world that everyone enjoys. Yes, knowing braille and writing with Slate and stylus led my life from transition to transformation,  from my dark days into the bright world where I could access the same "world of independence” that Sighted counterparts would! Now I imagine, where I would have been today, if there had been no Braille in my life! Indeed, Braille has become my life, my eyes, my world and my success, which has made me possible to dodge the difficulty in accessing the world of information.
Today millions of visually-impaired people like me have become able to read and write as quickly as others, express themselves as efficiently as other just touching the dots on the paper. The super-hero who invented Braille and left his groundbreaking contribution in the world was Louis Braille, who despite being himself blind, wrote a golden chapter for millions of blind by inventing and developing Braille Codes unlocking the door of opportunities and possibilities.
Today on the occasion of 208th birth anniversary of Louis Braille, the world’s greatest source of inspiration, I express my infinite and heartfelt tributes to him. His story proves that if we have strong motivation and passion for something, we can definitely achieve incredible things in our regardless of our physical limitations. Louis Braille who helped us unleash our eyes through 'touch' perception by inventing “Braille” Script, will always be remembered as the brightest and unsetting star in the world! Happy Birthday Louis Braille! Your great deeds will never go unnoticed!


Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016: The Year of Great Adventures



2016 has been one of the most-incredible and memorable years for me in many ways. If I slice the whole 2016 and metaphorically link my life, I would say, Half adventures, half adversities, half turnings, half twists filled with both bitter and better experiences. Although 2016 has been a great year, full of changes, events and incredible projects, shaping my career more clearly, “adventure” has become one of the major parts that taught and gave me new perspective on life and world. I saw so much things in this year within my country Nepal and outside. From the sorrow of Sindhupalchok to Development of DC, from the magnificence of Mongolia to serenity of Spain, all the great things came into my life making me more assertive to see the world through inner eyes.

Friday, December 30, 2016

A Year-long Journey with Asia Foundation: A Platform for Emerging Leaders of Asia



We are at the end of this year. 2016 is now about to wave good-bye to us. This has been incredible time for me in many ways, among which today I am going to share a really fantastic year-long journey with Asia Foundation with 12 most-dynamic emerging stars of Asia.

In fact, early in this year, my life took a very important turning when I received an E-mail from Asia Foundation stating that I got selected as a fellow in the Asia Foundation Development Fellows program 2016 from the very competitive pools of applicants. The news was undoubtedly exciting to me and my family, yet it was equally challenging as it definitely added more responsibilities in my shulder for the people and societies I was working for from dawn till dusk in Nepal.
The year-long fellowship was full of learnings, sharings and gaining different experiences and exposures. The moments I spent with 12 dynamic emerging leaders across the different Asian Countries, who are passionately working  to shape the future of Asia, gave me more energy and hopes that will never fade from my mind.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

My Action for Access: Does my blindness matter for my independent travel?



Over the two years, I got chance to travel to many countries learning and sharing many things, advocating and studying the practice of “accessibility”  and disability rights. During my quest and adventures, I flew with many airlines, and all of them treated me well and assisted to my solo travel with equality and fair treatment. However, in my most-recent travel case, I had to face severe hardship with the people and the system of Biman Bangladesh airlines.
Unfolding my story, I got an invitation to come to Bangladesh for a conference as a special guest. Although I was working hard in Nepal with many projects and campaigns, I was not pretty sure whether I was accepting the invitation and making my way to Bangladesh or not. In early 2014, I got to see Bangladesh when I cultivated the ever-lasting friendship with many individuals, dove into Bangali culture and society. Having remembered all those great memories of warmth and hospitality that Bangladeshi friends exhibited towards me, ultimately, putting my works aside, I decided to get ready for the trip to Bangladesh for few days.
Everything worked out well for me, I got visa, I packed up everything. The final step I needed to do was to purchase plane ticket for the round trip.
Just the day before I was intending to fly, in the morning, my brain was about to explode when I heard from my travel agent that Biman Bangladesh Airlines rejected my flight-booking to Bangladesh via their aircraft. The reason was simply groundless and nonsense. They argued that I wouldn’t be allowed to fly unless I would bring someone sighted or guide-dog. After hearing this, I straightly went to the office of Biman Bangladesh and told everything to the front-desk attendant. She was utterly unaware of my case yet she treated me well. She was positive towards my case and led me to the country manager . I, my brother and a friend of mine saw the country manager, Mr. Mohammed Amrul Ques.  I introduced briefly about me, my works and my adventures to him, and also I told him why I was intending to go to Bangladesh. I asked him why Biman Bangladesh rejected my booking and put some conditions which were totally out of the ground. He said that he would love to help and he would treat passengers with all kinds with equality. However, he repeated the same argument that the blind passenger must be accompanied by a sighted person or guiding-dog. He, then, contacted Dhaka head office and airport. He clearly told me that in the manuals of their airlines, the rules have been coded that the passengers who are blind must be accompanied by someone or have guide-dog with them to assist. I found these two conditions were flatly discriminatory that was against our dignity and right to travel. “Bringing sighted companion for whom paying extra ticket out of my pocket is almost impossible, and having guide-dog in the context of Nepal is not applicable.” I tried to convince him with this arguments and also told him about my travel history and the right-based support that other airlines provided me in my previous travels.
After the long conversation, he agreed to let me book my flight and also informed me that he would be flying on the same day with the same flight to Bangladesh. He said to me that he would assist me in the flight. I was satisfied with his positivity, but still not satisified with the system and the conditions of Biman Bangladesh airlines. He was willing to assist himself only because he was flying with the same flight on the same date, but what would happen if he was not flying? Would he be still willing to let me book the flight? It was my serious concern, and I lastly repeated my argument that the policy of the airlines should be changed in any case.
I agree that the country manager was positive, however my struggle was neither against him nor with the staffs of Biman Bangladesh. My concern was with the discriminatory policy of Biman Bangladesh and against their unfair system which would not recognize the right of persons with disabilities to travel independently.

As a youth and disability rights activist, I realized that I had two choices: either to act and move my next step against their unfair policy or just to give up, but ultimately chose the first option. I came back home, wrote a post in facebook and also wrote the E-mail to Biman Bangladesh’s higher authority. My Facebook post got huge public support with hundreds of comments and shares which I thought would be effective to pressurize the decision-makers of Biman Bangladesh to change their discriminatory policy for the passengers with special needs.
I was not talking about charity, I was not asking for their pity either, but I just wanted to tell them about  our right to the same freedom of travel that other people without disabilities would enjoy.

Now, the story is still unfinished. On the day of my flight, At the airport, while I was trying to check in, the staffs at counters asked me if anyone was travelling with me. When I said “no”, they tried to stop me saying their airline’s policy and insisting the same thing that was told to me previous day. I, then, told them that I had already talked to the country manager and he would assist me, they were still treating me very rudely. Ultimately after a while, they arranged wheelchair for me to escort up to the aircraft.
Later in the waiting area, I met their station manager and later the country manager appeared, apologized and assured that the blind passengers in future would not face the same problem and harsh treatment from them. They also asked me to delete the facebook post that I wrote the previous day assuring me that they would welcome blind passengers in their service and they will treat and assist the travelers with special needs in future. I traveled together
with country manager who assisted me throughout my journey and held a great conversation on how they could better help the passengers with disabilities
in future. He told me that in his 30 years of service experience in Biman Bangladesh working in many countries, he had never faced this sort of case before.
He committed to make the service of Biman Bangladesh accessible for all. He escorted me in the Dhaka Airport up to the exit. When I met the person who was there to pick me up, I said good-bye to the manager.
Upon receiving such positive responses and commitment to take action for equal access, I deleted my facebook post as a sign of gratitude to their initiation.
This is not the end of the story and the struggle. That day, the country manager travelled with me and offered the great assistance by his heart, but my question is with the unfair policy of Biman Bangladesh: how will they make sure that the passengers like me who can’t see or who have some kind of disability will receive fair treatment and be assisted and allowed to travel via their aircraft? Obviously the country manager has positive heart, who invited me in his office once I would return to Kathmandu, but my concern is that just like this time in future, he won’t always be available personally to assist other passengers with disabilities every time who might travel to Bangladesh via Biman Bangladesh, right? So, what about the discriminatory policy of this airlines which has negative perception towards blind/visually-impaired?

If we don’t ask for our rights, the answer is always “no”. I wish somebody from Biman Bangladesh would read my post, understand the rights of persons with disabilities and change their discriminatory policy while treating blind/visually-impaired passengers like me. This is indeed a very unfair policy of Biman Bangladesh that has to be changed soonest the possible.

If the business companies like Biman Bangladesh do not consider us as their valued clients, then we will be compelled to take another step to claim our rights. We should act for the fact and fight for the rights, that’s all what I believe.
I am raising the voice on this issue in the favor of justice not because I faced hardship with this airlines but because I felt our rights were taken away by the unfair system of Biman Bangladesh. I raised and spoke up about this issue not only for me but for the future travelers with visual impairments or other kinds of disabilities who might want to travel to Bangladesh via their aircrafts. I really want to see the change in such unfair system. Independent traveling is our right, which should be recognized and respected and offered assistance whenever persons with disabilities would need!