“A love of God is a fire, zeal is a flame; if love is a sun, zeal is its ray. Zeal is unconditional in the love of God.” (Conf. 211, p. 250) St Vincent de Paul
Contemplating on the concept and spirituality of light and dark during this Advent tide, I was struck by a recent article; I spent a day experiencing blindness and realized how badly the world is set up. Immediately I recalled my visit to a truly inspiring school setting out to make ‘reverse inclusion’ prevalent so sighted people will design an inclusive world accessible for all.
When we say we have 2 million registered members in the Vincentian Family organizations and 2 million more working within the Vincentian Family in various capacities, we mean people like School Principal, Dr. John Adam Patterson. The school’s Daughters of Charity board members talk about his work in St Vincent’s School for the Visually Impaired (VI), West Derby, Liverpool, UK in terms of “zeal” because of his passionate work for young visually impaired and their education in the UK and many countries throughout the world.
Like St. Vincent, John is adept in engaging with the great and the good as much as the grass roots of society. Capturing the interest of Rotary (Rotoract) Club International, Vatican, local and national clergy among others in commercial and civil society, he has funded the innovative Sightbox ‘toolbox’ for the VI and has so far been sent to VI schools including Pakistan, India, Rwanda, Gambia, Sierra Leone, China, Nigeria, Nepal, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, Peru, Virgin Islands. Teaching staff from St. Vincent’s have followed up with visits to Ethiopia, Pakistan, Nepal and the Gambia. “Our Sightbox Ambassador is currently in the Gambia until April 2020 connecting wider impact. ”It is estimated that 30 million people within Africa alone have been affected by blindness, and a further 102 million are at risk.
The pupils’ ideas have been physically made with support from Liverpool John Moores University and Liverpool Hope University students. Ideas include a Vi Running line, a grid to support ‘Boccia’ the rather unique ‘ I Rugby’ and range of computer technologies . These ideas we place into the physical ‘SIGHTBOX’ alongside other VI sports equipment which, funded by Rotary Clubs, St. Vincent’s sends around the world. It is effectively an access to education and friendship.
Because the VI pupils undertake a range of creative ‘enriched’ lessons in music, art, dance, drama, sport, ICT and environmental workshops, they develop their strengths in these creative areas, and pupils help train their sighted peers who visit St. Vincent’s under ‘reverse inclusion’.
“Our pupils train others how to make ceramic pots for example, or how to play a VI sport such as ‘Goal-ball’ or ‘Boccia’ (bowls). Here lies a ‘win, win’ scenario where our VI young people grow in confidence and self- esteem as the ‘trainers’ simultaneously making friends and breaking down barriers through VI awareness. It does not stop here however. Once a new found confidence is secured, St. Vincent pupils’ are encouraged into Science Technology Engineering and Maths (STEM) studies and entrepreneurial learning, where they work on designing new ideas that could help them to participate more readily in things they find hard to access.”
SIGHTBOX POTTED HISTORY
Dr. Patterson “our vision is to seek to connect our school communities and young learners in faith and service with VI communities around the world through the sightbox medium.”
John has written for the Pastoral Outreach Series of Redemptorist Publications on; Visual Impairment, caring for yourself and others.
He speaks at conference and publishes research papers on the role of social capital, social enterprise, volunteerism and curriculum design – see his influential A CURRICULUM FOR CHANGE.
In the UK, Visually Impaired unemployment is at 85% with 5-6 less friends than sighted peers; this is much higher in developing countries. John believes that “Reaching out to some 6 million visually impaired young people to help generate friendship groups through sports to tackle isolation and via engagement in STEM to challenge high unemployment rates via showcasing strengths towards employability in synergy with new venture creation.”
@StVincentsL12 @Sightboxuk @DrJohnAPatters1
Dee Mansi is a lay member of AIC, Vincentian Collaboration Commission, Vincentian Family Executive Committee & Depaul Assembly; a retired School Principal, Schools Inspector and Leadership in Education Lecturer. Dee is Irish, living in London with her husband and son, she travels in Europe and beyond.
Opinions expressed are the author’s own views.