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PIONEERS: Of the country’s 28 million population, more than 84,000 are estimated to be blind. However, literature for the blind community is scarce, with only eight out of the three million books in the National Library in braille. Nuradilla Noorazam talks to two aspiring individuals who helped kick-start a project to provide braille literature for the blind
The embossed dots on a piece of thick paper are his alphabets, coded to guide the understanding of his surroundings.
The 47-year-old was born blind and learnt about the world through his literacy in braille. Now married and having a career to call his own, Rafi embarked on a courageous project to expand the literacy and knowledge of the blind community by transcribing and distributing books in braille.
Together with his mentor and superior, Datuk Mah Hassan Omar, who is a lawyer by profession and a passionate advocate of the blind community in Malaysia, Rafi started the project in 2005 by transcribing one of the world' most read books: the Quran.
"As I used to work at the Education Ministry some years back, I realised that the choices of literature for the blind in Malaysia are extremely limited.
"The books are outdated and the blind rarely visit the braille library because of various constraints. When I met Hassan, he inspired me to work on the problem and give opportunities for the blind to learn and improve their knowledge by reading.
"It is so sad to think that our literature is limited because there are not enough books translated into braille."
He added that the Braille Association, a subsidiary of Mah Hassan and Associates owned by Hassan, has transcribed 100 books into braille, including textbooks for primary and secondary schools with only 10 employees, five of whom are blind.
The transcribing of the Quran into braille took one year as a sighted person read aloud the surah and a blind person translated it into braille.
Hassan took it upon himself to buy three braille printing machines in order to mass produce the Quran in braille.
As a result, more than 2,000 blind Malaysians have received the Quran in the form of donations. Their efforts saw the braille Quran exported to Australia, Somalia, Nigeria, Britain and, recently, 20 braille Qurans were delivered to Palestine.
The waiting list for the braille Quran has now reached a staggering 20,000 requests from all over the world.
However, Hassan, who was also born blind, said the primary concern over books in braille was the high cost of production. "One braille Quran stands as tall as a an Encyclopedia britannica and has to be separated by five volumes because of its density. It costs us RM240 to print one braille Quran. As most of the blind community have limited sources of income with some depending on welfare aid to live from day to day, it is hard for them to buy a braille Quran and other braille books for that matter."
Hassan attributed the expensive price of the braille Quran to various reasons such as the type of paper used and the cost of printers that can cost RM20,000 each.
He added that the braille Quran project relied mostly on public donations.
The association encouraged the public to make a RM240 donation for the printing of one Quran, which would be donated to those who need it most.
"They can make donations through the association's CIMB account number at 14770000173058. Any payments made are tax-exempt and we would also print the names of donors in the book. Those who want to pay us a visit can do so by going to Tingkat 2, No. 12, Jalan Pelangi 18, Taman Pelangi, Sentul or call Rafi at 013-2615783."
The translation of the Quran into braille was just a start to the duo's mission to help the blind as religious texts such as Tafsir Ar-Rahman and books on Fiqh (Islamic law) and Tawhid (Beliefs) are also being translated.
"For those who might not be able to support our cause financially, the association is also looking for good Samaritans to help read aloud texts so we can transcribe into braille form," said Hassan.