Caged

I picked at my French fries, the combination of salt and potato becoming a lump in my throat each time I tried to swallow. My throat was already dry from our walk to the restaurant, and my appetite had been non-existent that entire weekend. The White Spot was spacious yet stuffy with all the busyness that a Saturday night brought. There were thirteen of us —plus volunteers and chaperones— scattered across two tables.

***
I had never been to the city apart from specialist appointments or special outings; I was not accustomed to the hustle and bustle of city life. When I showed up for the 2014 Blind Beginnings Youth Leadership weekend, the shift in my environment was quite jarring. Cars rumbled by without skipping a beat; I could hear the acceleration of the skytrain as we passed several stations around the city. The city with its rolling hills and poles, parking meters that protruded out of the sidewalk. The weekend was very intimidating for me, as I had never been exposed to many children or youth that were blind or partially sighted growing up apart from the once a year gathering at summer camps. But even then, the goal of those events was to be active and have fun, so I never knew all the independence blind individuals could achieve.

I don’t really remember how my family was recommended me to sign me up for the Youth Leadership Program, but as soon as I got to the busy city of New Westminster and then was placed into a room full of other blind people I was immediately intimidated. Watching them mingle with one another and carry out basic tasks such as them navigating their way through the city and talking about employment made me envious.

***
“Are you okay?” The voice of one of the volunteers sitting next to me in the booth brought me back from my thoughts.

“Yeah, I am not that hungry.”

“What did you get, Jinnie?” Shawn —the executive director— asked me to make conversation.

“A veggie burger.”

“Nice.”

Shawn had been the one who had been running the weekend as well as the organization itself and to me this was fascinating, so I took my opportunity to pelt her with questions. Everything from how she took care of her son to how she traveled around by herself. From how she had a job to how she went to university. Her answers about these ordinary things amazed and motivated me.

“Wow, that’s so cool,” I responded,

“I want to be like that one day.”

“You can.” My cage was opened with those three simple words.

I continued to attend meetings as part of the program but didn’t contribute much. Though my cage was open, I wanted to test the waters before I took the leap. As time went on however, watching my blind peers participating gave me a little more confidence to step out of my nest. The first project I remember taking part in was the Blind Beginnings Flash mob. When this idea of creating a dance that blind people could carry out and perform came up, my heart related in a way it never had before due to the limited interactions I had with others who shared my struggles and feelings. I had always been told and felt that blind people couldn’t dance, let alone perform, so carrying this project out and witnessing the profound impact it had on society and myself I stepped out of my cage and immersed myself within the Blind Beginnings opportunities.

Being a part of the 2014 Youth Leadership weekend, though challenging, provided me the opportunity to become involved in a community that has taught (and continues to teach) me that my potential is truly limitless. I am proud to be attending Post-secondary and to have held small jobs, something I never thought possible for myself. Thank you to Blind Beginnings and those who continue to support our mission for allowing me to spread my wings.

by Harjinder “Jinnie” Saran