Coca Cola Ripples of Happiness winners on their novel approach to fundraising
Time Out Bahrain staff
We chat to the winners of the Coca Cola Ripples of Happiness challenge who took a novel approach to putting the spotlight on blindness.When you see a blind person, or someone with any other disability for that matter, do you instinctively feel sorry for them? Or do you actually go that step further and imagine how they may be feeling, how their disability impacts on their daily life.
Encouraging people to do just that was the challenge a group of students from Bahrain’s Applied Science University set themselves when they entered the Coca Cola Ripples of Happiness programme, which, each year, awards projects that make a significant impact on their communities.
Teamed up with a couple of volunteers from Injaz, which operates a mentorship programme pairing business people with young Arabs, they set about coming up with an innovative way to “turn sympathy to empathy” and the Spotlight project was born.
Volunteer Adbulaziz Alaraifi, who works for National Bank of Bahrain, explained: “We had a series of brainstorming sessions and at first we looked at helping children and young people, then we thought about people with Down’s Syndrome and we eventually settled on working with people who are visually impaired because it’s a group which is quite neglected here.”
Ahmed Alkhaja, of Al Salam Bank, continued: “One of the students had been reading a book about a project in France where people ate at a restaurant in the dark and together we developed it from there, we didn’t want to copy that but we did want to give the general public an idea of the challenges facing blind people in everyday life.”
The 25-strong group of students decided to create a house-themed roadshow divided into four experience stations where visitors would be blindfolded while attempting to carry out simple tasks such as pouring water and distinguishing substances through touch, smell and taste. They set it up at Bahrain City Centre and invited the public to join in.
The response was amazing,” said Abdulaziz. “One man told us, ‘today, I’ve learned new respect for the blind’ and that’s one of the main things we wanted to accomplish.
“So many people, when they meet someone with a disability, don’t know how to react so they do random stupid things. We spoke with blind people when we were working on the project and they told us one of the most common things is that people speak to them more loudly or slowly – they’re blind, not deaf!”
As part of the City Centre experience a Braille writer was also on hand printing out souvenir Braille name cards for those who took part and, together with the students, he had worked to compile a combined Braille menu for nine of the restaurants in the food court.
The idea proved a revolution for one blind man who took the menu and went and ordered food for himself for the first time ever. He told the team, “I never knew they had so many different kinds of sandwiches”! Adbulaziz added: “We got on-the- spot approval from the restaurants, they were all right behind the idea and really keen to get involved and actually working on this was a really education for all of us.”
Student Fatima Riyadh explained: “So many people, and we have all been guilty of it, if they are out to eat with a blind person will just offer a couple of choices from the menu – chicken or beef, that sort of thing.”
Ahmed continued: “I was in a Turkish restaurant with two visually impaired people, the dish names were in Turkish and then there was a long description for each dish, no-one is going to sit and read out each dish and the blind person doesn’t necessarily want you to, they don’t want to draw attention to their disability, they just want to be able to get on with their lives and this is something that could, potentially, make that much more possible.”
As winners of the Coca Cola prize for the region, the Applied Science University team receives a grant of $10,000 to develop its project and the next step is to make Braille menus more widely available since the first one was simply a prototype.
They’ve also been approached to take the roadshow to other locations in Bahrain, for example they’ll be doing a child-oriented version as part of the Summer Festival, and there are also plans to take it around the region.
Longer term they would also like to look at further initiatives aimed at increasing independence for blind people such as Braille labeling in stores but that will take longer.
Abdulaziz concluded: “The whole idea was to make this into a movement, rather than just a project, to get companies involved, starting with the restaurants, and get them thinking about how they can make life easier for people with disabilities in general and for the visually impaired in particular.
“Winning the award from Coca Cola will allow us to develop that vision.”