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Balkans and Sahara Projects

BALKANS PROJECT

ONCE and ONCE Foundation is developing a project in the field of education called the Balkans Project with the aim of assisting in introducing inclusive education in the region.

This co-operation project in Eastern Europe is a response to the serious decline in social conditions faced by the population as a result of political regime change and recent armed conflicts in parts of the Balkans.

The project has been developed since 2003 by a group of employees from ONCE’s Educational Resource Centre in Barcelona with support from the ONCE General Council International Relations Department. Over the past ten years the group has co-operated with special schools for the visually impaired in Sarajevo, Derventa, Belgrade and, in recent times, Tirana. Real change has been brought about in each of the schools according to its means in the process of updating teaching methods and moving towards a more inclusive education system.

Actions in the field of education in the project include training teachers in meeting the needs of boys and girls with a visual impairment, and providing students with the tools they need to produce textbooks and other written material in braille, thus contributing to making sure they enjoy their rights to education and to access culture. Public- and private-sector partners have collaborated in the project.

Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, Bulgaria and Moldova, among others, have witnessed and continue to see improvements in services for their blind populations.

Assistance has also been provided in setting up and organising mobility training programmes in the use of white canes for blind children and adults in Bosnia Herzegovina. The need for partially sighted students to make optimum use of residual sight has also been a focus area.

Thanks to project partner and NGO MestresxBosnia we have also reached out to teachers in mainstream schools, who increasingly find themselves teaching visually impaired students in their classrooms. Real inclusion is delivered by teachers in mainstream schools with assistance from teachers who have specialised skills in working with visually impaired students.  

The schools we have been working with now have a clear idea of the task ahead of them and they set out their own pathway to achieve their aims. Given the circumstances, the project goals have been accomplished in most of the countries involved; in the case of Albania, despite significant progress through the inclusive education programme developed in 2011 and 2012 with the engagement of Albanian institutions, the European Union, ONCE and ONCE Foundation, there is a need to continue working in the field of education.

In conclusion, ONCE and ONCE Foundation will continue to work and address future concerns in order to ensure blind and partially sighted boys and girls in the region enjoy an inclusive education.

SAHARA PROJECT

ONCE and ONCE Foundation, in partnership with local councils and organisations in Catalonia and the Levante region in Spain, is running an education project involving visually impaired boys and girls in the Saharawi refugee camps in the Tindouf province in Algeria.

At the beginning of the past decade, a number of Catalonian and Levantine local authorities and organisations with links to the authorities who were already working in the Saharawi refugee camps became aware that none of the blind children in the camps were enrolled in school. They contacted the ONCE Educational Resource Centre in Barcelona with a plan to set up small schools for visually impaired boys and girls and, in partnership with specialised staff from the centre, create a team of specially-trained teachers to work with the students. As a result five special schools were set up - one in each camp: Laayoune, Awserd, Smara, Febriary 27 and Dakhl.

In 2003 the ONCE General Council, through the International Relations Department, took note of this initiative and began its engagement to move the project forward by setting up a “Co-ordination Committee”. At its annual meetings each partner sets out its commitments for the coming year. The agreements reached are forwarded to the Saharawi authorities for their information and to enable them to take on co-responsibility for the project.

Commitments cover the entire spectrum of areas in educating visually impaired children, ranging from facility management and furnishings to food and transport for students to ensure they are able to attend classes. Currently each organisation covers the cost of one school, and if there are shortfalls the other organisations step in to assist. ONCE and ONCE Foundation is responsible for developing the more specific interventions in educating the visually impaired children in terms of supporting and funding the work of our staff who, year after year, visit the camps to continue training local teachers. Thanks to their efforts, more than thirty local teachers are now suitable trained. We also donate all the adapted teaching material, including material in braille but also for partially sighted students and equipment for playtime activities. 

Thanks to the project more than 100 students have now enrolled in the five schools, where conditions for learning are even better than in ordinary schools, while the future goal is to introduce an inclusive education model in the camps. 

Given the nature of this project it stands out as a paradigm in international development co-operation. Unity of action, co-ordinating activities and with each partner complementing the others’ actions, whilst also engaging with the local authorities on the ground and ensuring co-responsibility…these criteria, part of a set of principles for any successful international co-operation project, are met in this project. 

Thanks to the Sahara Project, in an inhospitable place such as the Sahara desert, with so many natural and social adversities (many more than we normally come up against in the majority of developing countries), we can find blind and partially sighted boys and girls who have hope for the future.