Leading by example
Woolwich & Wellesley Township's Local Community Newspaper | Elmira, Ontario, Canada
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Leading by example

Being blind isn’t easy in the best of circumstances. In a third-world country, without an infrastructure to support and educate the vision-impaired, life can seem hopeless. But “hope” is exactly what Dave Van Der Molen wants to bring on February 2, when he travels to Rwanda for a one-month trip to educate the country’s blind children.

Dave Van Der Molen is raising money this weekend to bring abacuses and other supplies to blind children in Rwanda. His one-month trip starts February 2.[Will Sloan / The Observer]
Dave Van Der Molen is raising money this weekend to bring abacuses and other supplies to blind children in Rwanda. His one-month trip starts February 2. [Will Sloan / The Observer]
“It’s all new to me,” said Van Der Molen, an accomplished blind professional who plans to lead by example. “To give them hope is the main thing. Anything on top of that is just a bonus.”

However, he added, “In order for them to actually be employable, they’ve got to have tools in their hands, they’ve got to be trained, and they’ve got to be literate. We’ve got to start somewhere. The more they can prove they can do, the better the chances are they’ll be hired and that funding will be available.”

That’s why Van Der Molen is coming equipped with essential tools for visually impaired education. If fundraising efforts are successful, he’ll have a supply of abacuses, braille paper, and full-page plastic braille slates for arithmetic, reading, and writing.

Van Der Molen’s path to Rwanda started when he met Deborah Gleason, who has been travelling to the developing world to teach blind and deaf-blind children for the past decade. There is no organized Canadian charity effort for such missions: Gleason works with international organizations and stays with a family in the area.

“I just fell in love with the people on the first trip, and keep going back,” said Gleason. “It’s the experience of a lifetime.

“I’ve had lots of comments from people after the first trip I made, ‘The youth should go there, they’re so spoiled in the West.’ I said, ‘I have to refute that – I met so many young people.’ It’s so inspiring – they gave up two, three months of their lives to live in very poor conditions to help.”

Gleason and Van Der Molen became acquainted when she looked to him for resources to help at a wedding, the first between two blind people in Rwanda’s history. Van Der Molen was intrigued by her charity work, and next month he’ll finally take the plunge.

This will be Van Der Molen’s first trip to Africa – on his blog you can see pictures of him getting his Twinrix shots. “I’ve always wanted to go to the Third World and teach – this is the first opportunity I’ve had,” he notes. Despite the natural trepidation, Gleason says the move is easier than expected.

“It is a bigger transition when you come back than it is to go over there,” she said. “I go over there, I stay with a family, and immediately my diet is beans and rice, and I go to bed. I remember getting in the shower for the first time when I came back – you just turn the tap and there’s water. It’s like, ‘Wow.’”

Van Der Molen, who works at the Canadian Council of Christian Charities in Elmira, is proof that disability need not prohibit a career.

“There’s a school at a province near where Dave will be teaching, and they asked me to talk to the kids,” said Gleason. “Just to hear, ‘You know someone who’s blind who has a job? And they pay him? And he can do what?’ It’s a beginning to show even the sighted people that they can do things.”

Van Der Molen is looking to raise $4,000 to purchase supplies, as well as cover airfare and accommodations. To donate, and keep track of his Rwandan adventure, visit brailleforrwanda.com. Woodside Bible Fellowship (200 Barnswallow Dr., Elmira) will also hold a fundraising lunch January 19 at 12:30 p.m. Cost of the meal $5 per person or $20 per family, with additional donations encouraged.

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