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The Hindu 14 FEB 2009

The Hindu 14 FEB 2009

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 Online edition of India's National Newspaper Saturday, Feb 14, 2009 
Lighting up lives
Sabriye Tenberken and Paul Kronenberg share a vision for a bright future for thevisually impaired. Their foresight and teamwork have resulted in the establishment of the IISE in Kerala, writes Saraswathy NagarajanPhotos : S. Gopakumar Sabriye Tenberken andPaul Kronenberg sharea dream. Climbingmountains and crossingstreams to follow their dreams come easy for this couple whoenvisage a bright futurefor the visually impaired.Sabriye’s life has beendevoted to making thatdream come true for her and thousands of otherswho share her disability.Although Sabriye losther eyesight at the ageof 12, she is a visionarywhose foresight has ledto the establishment of the aestheticallydesigned, eco-friendlyInternational Institute for Social Entrepreneurs(IISE) on the banks of the Vellayani Lake onthe outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram.The 38-year-old is apicture of confidence asshe confidently tacklesthe muddy road from her rented house to thesprawling campus of 
Sabriye Tenberken and Paul Kronenberg
the Institute. Her partner Paul, co-founder and co-director of the Institute, unobtrusively follows her as sheleads, white cane in hand.
Dream factory
“We plan to devel
p catalysts and leaders who will take up such projects in their respective countries. We want committed and talented adults who are visuallyimpaired to see blindness as a challenge, as an adventure. We want them to dreamand dream big. So this place will be a dream factory and we will also equip them withthe skills to turn that dream into reality,” says Sabriye. And when Sabriye speaks, theworld tends to listen as the word impossible does not exist in her dictionary. “I am astubborn person who cannot take no for an answer. So when I want to do something,I do it,” she says.Sabriye, which means “resilience or patience in Arabic,” says she must haveinherited the determination from her mother who travelled through Turkey, dressedas a man to do research on Islamic art and architecture in Turkey.The same streak of independence that made Sabriye study Tibetology as she wasdrawn towards Tibet. When she found that a system of Braille did not exist for theTibetan language, she developed one in 1992 to be able to master her study. Whenshe found that people doubted her ability to travel to Tibet on her own, in 1997 shetravelled through the inner regions of Tibet on horseback where she met Paul.In 1998 both of them returned to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, to open the first trainingcentre for the blind. “There were children who had never seen the sun or steppedoutside their homes. We had to make them believe in themselves and get rid of their self-pity. We wanted them to feel: ‘I am blind, so what?”’ she recalls. Eventually, thechildren who were taught English, Chinese and Tibetan could turn around anddeclare: ‘Yes, we are blind but we speak, read and write three languages. How aboutyou?’ Later, a farm was opened to teach the visually impaired animal husbandry,vegetable cultivation and cheese-making.Enthused by their Tibetan experience Sabriye and Paul established Braille WithoutBorders (BWB) in 2002.In three books Sabriye encapsulates the Tibetan experience: ‘My Path Leads toTibet,’ ‘Tashis neue Welt’ and ‘The Seventh Year.’ Recognition and media cameknocking to acknowledge the work of BWB and Sabriye was invited as a guest on anOprah Winfrey show. “Meanwhile, we were on the lookout for a place to open our centre to develop social entrepreneurs. Navin Ramachandran, who hails fromThiruvananthapuram, happened to read an interview about the work of BWBpublished in the
New York Times
. In this interview it was mentioned that we wereplanning to start a centre in South India. He got in touch with us and we came toKerala.”While location hunting, on the last day of their trip to Kerala, Sabriye and Paulstumbled upon the place where the IISE stands today. The ecologically built campushas incorporated rain water harvesting, biogas, solar/wind energy and wastemanagement systems along with ecosan toilets.
One-year programme
As Paul and Sabriye walk you around the campus, Paul talks about the one-year 

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