SA GUIDE-DOGS ASSOCIATION FOR THE BLIND CELEBRATES 60 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE
When we say ‘Life is beautiful’ we speak in visual terms of the world we live in. Sight plays such a major part in determining where we go, what we do, what we eat, touch and enjoy, that, when we really want to think, taste, listen to music or smell something wonderful, we close our eyes so as not to be distracted by sight. Only then can we truly focus on our other senses.
Visually impaired people do not have this distraction. In a world designed for the sighted, the slightest freedom is denied to those who cannot see. A cup of coffee is a dangerous hazard, furniture exists to trip people. Everything in their lives must be regulated, counted and memorised. How many steps to the loo? Where is the sugar bowl? Whose voice is that? Does this shirt suit me? Is this safe to eat? Do I look neat and tidy? How much money do I have in my hand? How far away is that car?
Fortunately the human brain is a truly marvelous piece of bio-engineering, with the capacity to take the unused ‘sight space’ and put it to work enhancing other senses. However, this does not happen automatically, it has to be worked at extremely hard. That’s why visually impaired people have to depend a lot more on their hearing, touch, smell and taste. Enhanced senses do compensate to a certain degree, but the visually impaired still have to live in a sighted world. Simple tasks like travelling to work, shopping, drawing money, going to church or visiting friends are almost impossible without the assistance of a sighted friend.
Until science invents a bio-optic device that can take over the functions of the human eye, some other means of enabling the visually impaired had to be found. This need led to a two-pronged approach. Firstly the guide dog, using the sight and intelligence of a trained dog to guide a visually impaired person. Secondly, the College of Orientation and Mobility, which runs a programme that teaches mobility skills using the long cane (commonly known as the white cane) as well as other skills of daily living.
When Gladys Evans stepped onto South African soil in the early 1950s accompanied by the very first South African Guide-Dog ‘Sheena’, who would have thought it was the beginning of a whole new freedom for all of those visually impaired South Africans who wished to share such freedom. With this new-found, hard-won independence, the capable and determined Mrs Evans wanted to share her joy amongst other visually impared and in October 1953 founded the South African Guide-Dogs Association for the Blind (SAGA). Today, sixty years later, SAGA is still the only organisation of its kind on the African continent. Both this concept and the Association developed in leaps and bounds. SAGA grew from the initial rented premises to finally settle in their current 11 acre Gladys Evans Training Centre just off Witkoppen Road, Sandton.
SAGA breeds and trains dogs for a symbiotic partnership that represents one of the finest achievements of the human spirit and the finest example of the human/animal relationship and bond. Guide dogs don’t just provide independence and freedom; they also break down barriers and initiate conversations. Everyone admires guide dogs which are good-natured and sociable animals.
For those visually impaired who cannot, or do not want to work with a dog, SAGA opened the College of Orientation and Mobility in 1974. The college’s course enables instructors to return to their communities to train the visually impaired in their own languages to go about their daily lives. This is currently the preferred way to address these needs in Africa.
This year, 2013, SAGA celebrates its 60th Diamond Jubilee Anniversary and we wish to thank the entire South African public for 60 years of support of these beautiful, intelligent animals who make such a difference in the lives of those they serve.
To commemorate this milestone year, the Association has a variety of events lined up and we would appreciate your support in considering joining our celebrations:
• The Diamond Jubilee Gala Concert to be held at the Joburg Theatre on Wednesday, the 5th of June 2013;
• The Diamond Jubilee Fly Fishing competition in Dulstroom on Saturday, the 31st of August 2013; and
• The Diamond Jubilee Ball at the Montecasino Ballroom on Saturday, the 28th of September 2013 – just to name a few!
During the months ahead a series of press releases will highlight:
• The guide dog Breeding and Puppy Raising Programme;
• Training not only Guide Dogs but also Service Dogs
• The services of the SAGA College of Orientation and Mobility.
For more info on these Diamond Jubilee festivities, please contact the marketing department at the SAGA head-office on 011-705-3512, or e-mail Pieter van Niekerk – email@example.com. Further information can be obtained by visiting www.guidedog.org.za.