The Somaliland Blind Organization (SOBO) in cooperation with ABILIS Foundation and the Ministry of Employment, Social Affairs & Family (MESAF) hosted a highly organized event in commemoration of the World White Cane Awareness Day under the theme “Help the blind to step unhindered” for the first time in the history of the Republic of Somaliland at Maansoor Hotel on Saturday, October 16, 2021. The ceremony intended to raise awareness of the general public of Somaliland in the worth and uses of the white cane the blind people rely on for safety, mobility, and independence and to introduce it into the sighted people of Somaliland whose related alertness is still very low or which most citizens may not know it before.
Nearly hundred members with visual disabilities mainly youth and including adult, death youth members, Somaliland Deaf Association (SODA), Somaliland National Disability Forum (SNDF), Somaliland Disability Network (DAN), Anshah Academy, Government officials, Diaspora groups and representatives from different groups of the civil society including universities and media institutions participated in the Event. The blind community who participated in the ceremony was especially happy and appreciative to have the White Cane Awareness Day celebrated for the first time in Somaliland.
The Event program which took nearly five hours time contained highly alluring topics including keynote speeches, presentations, poems regarding significance of the white cane as a means of assisting the blind independent mobility and as a key symbol for the blind person to be identified by the onlookers or pedestrians and the drivers on the roads and in the open, presenting awards to deserving persons and institutions, very interesting traditional folk dance plays presented by the Anshah Academy Youth, distribution of varied written awareness materials and publications in support of the importance of the white cane and generally the visual disability rights awareness in Somaliland.
SOBO Chairperson, Mahdi Muse Jaama and other Board members namely Mawlid Mohamed Odowaa, SOBO Secretary, Mujaahid Saeed Mohamed Hussein, SOBO Spokesperson, Hinda Muhumed Aqli who represented the blind community Awdal region and who were all members of the few learned blind members of the society delivered key speeches, discussed importance of the white cane, emphasized its annual celebration as momentous event to be sustained from now on, history of the Braille education in Somaliland and the critical challenges affecting people with disability in the education, accessibilities that need to be addressed. They also illustrated the general public awareness towards the fundamental rights of the people with disabilities and as well pointed out the noteworthy achievements of their organization, the disability related organizations and the Government of the Republic of Somaliland and they greatly thanked the Somaliland Ministry of Employment, Social Affairs & Family and the esteemed ABILIS Foundation for their cooperation and meaningful support for organizing this notable commemoration of the white cane awareness day.
It is also noteworthy that the ceremony strengthened unity and cohesion among the blind and the deaf communities and the leaders of the two organizations were genuinely speaking for the needs and rights of each other. The people with disabilities and particularly their community organizations can have voice and make progress with more joint and united efforts.
The other speakers who congratulated the Somaliland blind community and the people of Somaliland on the commemoration of the World White Cane Awareness Day also included: Iid Hassan Khayre, Principal of the Somaliland Braille Center which the organization manages, Mohamud Abdirahman Ali, Chairperson of the Somaliland Deaf Association, Dahir Abdi Hussein, Chairman of Somaliland National Disability Forum, Ali Jama Hassan, Chairman of Disability, representatives from the Diaspora Department under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & International Cooperation namely Mohamed Heis Abdi and Hassan Ahmed Yusuf who particularly discussed the Diaspora Help Disable Program and called for the Somalilanders abroad to contribute to the needs and priorities of the people with disabilities in Somaliland. They too applauded the President of Somaliland H.E. Muse Behi Abdi and MESAF for developing the Disability Rights Laws and the Disability Policy of Somaliland.
Finally, Abdillahi Ahmed Rabbi, Director of the Disability Department of the Ministry of Employment, Social Affairs & Family closed the ceremony for the day with encouraging speech he announced the good news that the long-awaited Somaliland Disability Act is now under validation. This truly will give hope to the people with disabilities including the blind and the deaf as it will remove so many barriers affecting the lives of this vulnerable society in achieving rights and in all the aspects pertaining to accessibility, inclusion, economic, social, cultural and environmental sectors. This Director also informed the disabled community groups that the National Disability Policy is under review and encouraged their participation and inputs. All the participants warmly clapped for the good news the Director affirmed to the public.
On the other hand, the Somaliland Blind Organization announced they will recognize and honor every deserving prominent person, politician, public or private institution, Business Company, individual activist or other community group that may meaningfully contribute to or supports in any form in the issues of the people with disabilities every year on the occasion of the White Cane Awareness. And so that for this year they concluded the event program with presenting awards to 21 persons including 6 members with visual disabilities but yet who proved successful and to serve as role models for the blind community, Minister of Finance Development, Dr. Saad Ali Shire, Cllr. Abdirashid Mohamud Hassan (Ciddin), other Government officials or civil servants, members from the Diaspora, leaders of Disability-oriented organizations, Sagaljet Company who gives them 50% in all printing services and other members they expressed as deserving individuals they are grateful to.
The White Cane is a long stick device used by the people with total blindness or with very low vision to give them information about the environment they are walking through. it helps the blind find out obstructions and get around them safely. It helps them to scan and know their surroundings for obstacles or orientation marks. It can alert things close to them in the environment such as walls or buildings, trees, pits on the ground, hollow lands, stairs etc, or curbs they are going up to, parked vehicles etc and feel the objects to avoid risk. The white cane doesn’t only assist the blind to scan the land and avoid risk but also as internationally known it serves as an exclusive symbol for the onlookers or passersby and particularly the drivers to identify and recognize the holder as a blind person and so that they appropriate care can be given. Most white canes have red colour at the bottom and the person uses it when both when walking alone and when a sighted person or guide dog. In Somaliland, no blind person takes on a guide dog and it is mainly despite it needs costly training which is not done here and paved land, also Muslim culture and religious basis. Awareness billboards should be put up at certain public places in the major cities in order to introduce the White Cane and its importance.
The White Canes and all the types of the Braille tools, Braille-written materials including the Holly Braille and the varied technology-aided assistive devices that the blind needs in learning, mobility, self-helping at home, communication etc are highly needed in Somaliland both as donations and for sale. Rehabilitation centers, computer literacy centers and resource centers are needed as well at least all-in-one center in each major city particularly for the citizens with visual disabilities in Somaliland.
In conclusion, much thanks and appreciation to the cooperative roles of Mr. Mohamed Muse Banjiidh, Abdikarim Hussein Idle, Abdirahman Ahmed Mohamed, Sakariye Mohamed Abdi, Mohamed Hussein Iidle and Warsame Essa Mohamed who volunteered well with SOBO for the preparation and on the event day.
This Article is written by Hassan Ahmed Yusuf for the press in order to mark the first annual commemoration of the World White Cane Awareness Day in the Republic of Somaliland 2021.