“The real egalitarians are not the people who want to redistribute wealth to the poor, but those who want to extend to the poor the ability to create their own wealth, to lift themselves up, instead of trying to tear others down. Earning respect, including self-respect, is better than being a parasite.” Thomas Sowel
The Timbuktu Massage Training Centre for the Visually Impaired was our first fully functional site. Our founder spared neither effort, nor time and he spent far, far more money than he originally budgeted to make his dream come true. He succeeded, but unfortunately and due to the laws of unintended consequences (fall of Ghadaffi in Libya), the dream lasted only four months. The Timbuktu Centre was intended to be the flagship of our organization, because of the town’s fabulous status. Everybody heard the name and it is one of the world’s top ten “off-the-beaten-track” destinations for tourists. The training centres in other locations were going to be branches. However, the dream is not dead; we just have to modify it a little. In the long run, our dream is to train as many “unemployable” visually impaired individuals in the 3rd world countries as possible, depending on finances.
There are some 50 million blind people in the world and another about 140 million with some serious sight problems. Studies consistently indicate that females have a significantly higher risk of being visually impaired than males, in every region of the world, and at all ages. Fred Hollows foundation is doing their best to prevent or reverse some of the blindness using surgical procedures. Some of the blind are beyond the foundation’s help and we hope we’ll be able to help some of them by teaching them how to massage.
Opening massage-training centres for the visually impaired is a charitable undertaking. Our founder paid for all the expenses of the training and starting up the centre in Timbuktu. But he was also keeping in mind the words of Mark Ford – editor of the Palm Beach Newsletter – Charity must be merited, earned, paid for, and appreciated. It is not an entitlement. We kept repeating to our students that we are teaching them to fish, but once the training is done, they cannot expect perpetual supply of fish from the founder – they have to do the fishing.
The graduates were told that during quiet times they would be expected to train new students. Not only locals, but also their visually impaired brothers and sisters from neighbouring towns. One of the neighbouring towns – Douentza – is the centre of the northern end of Dogon country – famous for its scenery and trekking trails – something like the Monument Valley in USA. All of those trekkers would welcome a massage after a day’s walk up and down the steep slopes of the Falaise do Bandiagara. Yet there is not one masseur in all of the Dogon Country. There are many visually impaired individuals in the Dogon villages, so there wouldn’t be a shortage of students. Gao, 450 km beyond Timbuktu, is another tourist destination that could support a few blind masseurs. The property that we were renting had enough rooms to accommodate the students from other places for the duration of the training.
In the long run, our dream is to train as many “unemployable” visually impaired individuals in the 3rd world countries as possible. In the whole of Africa massage is not as popular and a part of life like it is in South-East Asia, so our trainees would cater mainly for the tourists and local elite, who can afford it. In most of Africa tourism is very seasonal, so we are trying to create some income earning activities for the lean parts of the year.
As soon as our founder started thinking about teaching the blind how to massage, he was also thinking about the fate of the students once the training is completed. Some places have a steady stream of tourists all year round – like tropical seasides. In such places our trainees would have a steady income. Some places may have two seasons – summer and winter (if the location is famous for scenery and for winter sports) with not much happening in spring and autumn. There are many places where the tourist season is only a few months long. In Timbuktu it is only four months. The rest of the year there is just a trickle of foreign visitors and a handful of government officials doing their rounds of inspections and official visits. So, what will our students do when the tourists leave the town, or if the permanent residence of our trainees is in a place where there is nothing to attract the tourists?
There are ways that the visually impaired could make living in areas not frequented by tourists, using their massaging skills. For instance, there are football teams just about everywhere in the world. Every one of the players would benefit from a legs massage before and after each match and training session. And so would every sportsman and physically active person. There are pregnant women in every corner of the world. Massaging some acupressure points will help with morning sickness during the first trimester. There are ways to help pregnant women with severe fluid retention and weight gain, fatigue and exhaustion, sugar craving, sleeping problems before labour, degrees of emotional stress and anxiety, inducing labour, problems with dilation, etc. Blind people can be trained to help with all those problems and maternity wards would certainly welcome their help.