Will this fire move our hearts?

Artur Stelmasiak

Several weeks ago the primary school for blind children in Laski near Warsaw was burnt down. Now the classes are held in provisionally adapted rooms of the pre-war building. And the blind children keep asking for help!

Every penny is valuable. The needs of the Blind Institution in Laski are very big. This biggest and best Polish school for the blind and visually impaired children has existed thanks to generosity of people. ‘Now we suffer again. The primary school and many valuable didactic aids were destroyed by the fire’, says Wladyslaw Golab, the chairman of the Association for the Care of Blind People who has dealt with fund raising since the 1970s. ‘I hope that this fire will move the hearts of people of good will’, he adds.

Dreams ... about the school

Currently, the children are learning in the former boarding school. They do not complain a lot but they miss ‘their school’. At the moment I am entering the classroom where the pupils read the poem by Julian Tuwim ‘Dyzio Marzyciel’ [Dyzio, the Dreamer]. One of the ten year old boys meticulously writes something using a special typewriter. The Braille signs appear on the sheet. ‘What are you writing?’, I ask the boy. ‘A poem about my dreams’, Piotrus Warachowski answers. ‘And what are your dreams?’ ‘I do not know yet. I am just thinking’, the blind pupil answers. ‘And I am writing about ice-creams and chocolate tort. Thinking about this makes my mouth water’, proudly says Kamilek Wisniewski, who is sitting at the next desk. The teacher announces a break several minutes later. The kids are leaving the classroom, talking, playing and sometimes they are up to mischief. They are like their healthy peers: they smile and rejoice. Several weeks ago their school was burnt down. Now the classes are held in the re-war building, which is poorly adapted for the blind. The building was just to be renovated. Since the fire the children have worried that things will not be the same any more. They long for what they knew. ‘I miss my school very much. I felt at home there. I knew every corner. And here I must get to know everything. I miss my old classroom’, Piotrus’s voice sounds heartbreakingly pitiful.

Invaluable teaching aids

The fire broke out at 4.00 a.m. Nobody was in the building. You fear to think what could have happened if the fire had broken out during the classes. The fire broke out in the one-storey building, erected in the 1980s, with classrooms for the first three grades. Every day about 60 blind children were taught there. Now the building has no windows and one can see blackened white bricks of the front elevation. But the real devastation is inside. The wooden interior and the equipment were completely burnt down. Some rooms have no roof. Only charred beams are hanging; they used to support the construction. ‘Today we know that we must construct the building anew. The experts said that only the basement could be used’, Wladyslaw Golab stresses. But school is not only walls that can be rebuilt thanks to people’s generosity. ‘Much of what was burnt cannot be bought, you need to create these things’, says Krystyna Broniarz, the headmaster. Some didactic aids were invented by the teachers, pupils and their tutors. They worked on them for many years. For example, blind children need models of buildings, convex maps and drawings, stuffed birds or squirrels, which are used as decorations in regular schools. But the blind must touch all objects because this is the way they get to know the world.

They open the world for them

Currently, the Educational and Pedagogical Centre in Laski consists of a kindergarten, primary school, gymnasium and several high schools. About 300 blind children coming from all over Poland are taught there. The centre in Laski provides specialist care and education (specialists in blind people education, the so called tiflologists) for the youngest groups. Since it is very important to teach the youngest children. So the kindergarten accepts three-year-old children. The pupils often stay in Laski till they turn 20, learning the surrounding world step by step. Numerous nuns and lay people work in Laski. They treat their work with the blind as a calling. ‘Every day I go to my kids with joy’, admits Lucyna Pilaszek, a primary school teacher. The blind are also eagerly employed at the Centre. ‘We have many excellent blind workers and educators. They are witnesses for our children. They show them that in spite of their disabilities they can make some career’, Wladyslaw Golab stresses. Laski is the second home for Piotrus Warachowski. He got to like this place and his teachers very much. ‘I hope to work here like them. That’s why, I am trying to do my best at school’, the boy emphasizes.

This costs!

Since the very beginning the school in Laski has been supported by people. ‘Our programme does not differ much from other educational programmes. We only use a different method’, Lucyna Pilaszek explains. In Laski the classes are smaller, there are only about ten pupils in each of them. The didactic process must be individualised for the blind children. Apart from visual impairment they often have other disabilities’, the teacher says. Besides tiflological education they need rehabilitation, swimming or therapy on specially trained horses. But this costs a lot! The monthly cost of education of one child is over 5,000 zlotych. The Association for the Care of Blind Peopled raises funds. ‘We are a private school. Therefore, the support of the Ministry of National Education covers only half of the costs of the blind children’s education’, Wladyslaw Golab stresses. People of good heart must fund the rest.

Through the Cross ... to Heaven

Walking in the park belonging to the Centre in Laski one can learn humility. When you look at the innocent blind children you ask the natural question ‘why?’ We find the answer in the phenomenon of this place. Since it is in Laski that people always repeat that faith is the key to accept your disability. If the blind children know that in spite of their disabilities they are children of God who loves them as he loves others they will love and accept themselves with time. But it requires consistent religious education and spiritual formation, and first of all, daily presence with children. ‘The answer why I am blind can be found only in our faith’, says Wladyslaw Golab who himself lost sight during World War II. Educators try to explain children and their families that the blind can also be happy. ‘All people have some kinds of limitations but they need not devoid them of their dignity and happiness’ Mr Golab stresses. Therefore, teachers combine intellectual and spiritual formation in Laski. ‘Christianity says that every cross is a gift; you only need to accept it’, the chairman emphasizes. The educators, pupils and other people who are connected with the Centre have one common characteristic. Instead of saying ‘Good morning’ and ‘Praise be the Lord’ they use words that explain the phenomenon and theology of this place. Walking a narrow street between the buildings I can hear a young girl say ‘Through the Cross...’ And one of the Franciscan nuns answers from afar ‘To Heaven!’

Wladyslaw Golab, Chairman of the Society:
A lack of sight is not a misfortune. It is some lack but it is not the decisive factor whether you are happy or unhappy. The only important thing is to accept your disability. I have been blind since 1944. And I think I am happy, to the extent you can be happy in this world.

Let us help!

We would be thankful to all who want to help us in any way. Small sums given by ordinary people are the main source of supporting the school.
The specialist didactic aids: Braille typewriters and specially printed maps of Poland, stuffed animals and birds, a human skeleton, CD players, English songs recordings, a piano, musical instruments for the youngest children, a special Polish-English dictionary, models of vehicles, models of buildings and monuments were destroyed by the fire.
We would be thankful for other non-didactic objects, which could relieve our budget and allow us to use the saved means for rebuilding the school.

Towarzystwo Opieki nad Ociemnialymi
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"Niedziela" 51/2007

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl