Thursday, June 15, 2006

History of the Malaysian Association for the Blind (1951-2001)

picture at Book Fair 2005

The Malaysian Association for the Blind (MAB) was established in 1951 in order to look after the welfare of the blind in the country. It has played this role and much more for the past 50 years of its existence.

In fact, the MAB was formed on November 21, 1951 on the initiative of Major D.R. Bridges who was then an officer in the Department of Welfare Services of Malaya. He was a soldier in the British army in Burma and was blinded in the war during the 1940's. After being rehabilitated in England, he was assigned to work as a welfare officer for the blind in Malaya. Subsequently, he became the first Executive Director of the MAB in the 1950's.

After about ten years of service in Malaya, he had helped to bring about important developments in the work for the blind in this country. In 1952 he obtained the British Resident, Sir Henry Gurney, to lay the foundation stone for Gurney Training Centre (GTC) at Jalan Marsh, Kuala Lumpur. Unfortunately, because of his assassination while on the way to Fraser's Hill, the stone was laid instead by Sir Gerald Templer on December 18, 1952.

This was followed by the laying of the foundation stone for the Princess Elizabeth School for the Blind in Johor Baru to provide primary education for blind children. This took place on February 5, 1953 at its present site in Jalan Nong Chik but the school had actually been started in 1948 by the Social Welfare Department. In the same year of 1953, the GTC was also opened with an enrolment of five trainees.

Major Bridges went on to make applications for land from the state governments of Pahang and Perak. This led to the establishment of the Taman Harapan agricultural training centre for the rural blind in Temerloh, Pahang in 1958 with an enrolment of ten trainees. The establishment of the Kinta Valley Workshop in Ipoh, Perak was also brought in the same year of 1958 with enrolment of 20 to produce handicrafts for sale.

Major Bridges was also responsible for setting up the Job Placement Service in Kuala Lumpur in 1956 and for negotiating the handing over the Braille Publishing Unit and Braille Equipment Sales from the Ministry of Education to the MAB in 1959.

Thus, by the time he left Malaya in the early 1960's, a firm and solid foundation had been laid for the work for the blind to continue in this country. Further developments that took place in the 1960's and beyond included the establishment of the Sales Organisation for Basket Workers in 1967 with 20 clients, opening of the Rotary Hostel for Blind Workers in 1975 with assistance from the Rotary Club of Kuala Lumpur, starting of the MAB/UKM Low Vision Clinic in 1980 and the MAB Low Vision Resource Centre in 1988 and the implementation of the Community-Based Rehabilitation Programme (CBR) in Pahang in 1985 and in Negeri Sembilan in 1994. Many of these developments took place when the Prime Minister, YAB Tun Hussein Onn, was the President of MAB from 1975-1990.

Eventually, 1996 saw the completion of the new MAB Complex on the site of the former GTC building. The idea was to house the majority of the services in Kuala Lumpur under one roof. Thus, in 1997 the GTC, Braille Library, Placement Service and Headquarters moved into the complex which was officially opened by His Majesty, the Yang Di Pertuan Agong, Tuanku Ja'afar Ibni Almarhum Tuanku Abdul Rahman.

The new services in the MAB Complex included sports and recreational facilities such as the goalball centre, gymnasium and jogging track as well as a Pre-School Programme for Blind Children (ABC) started at the beginning of 1998 and the Elderly Blind Centre launched by the Welfare Chairman, Prof. Abdullah Malim Baginda, at the end of 1998. However, just one year before (in 1997), the Social Activity Centre for the adult blind was set up at the premises of the Rattan Centre at Jalan Berhala in Brickfields. Then in 1998 all the welfare services were categorised under the MAB Welfare Unit with a welfare officer to be in charge.

MAB has also endeavoured to meet the needs of the blind with regards to tertiary education and information technology. In 1970 the MAB initiated a scholarship fund to provide loans and grants to support the blind at the college and university level. A further boost was given to the fund when in 1991 the Institute of Engineers, Malaysia (IEM) made available an annual grant to the Tun Hussein Onn Memorial Scholarship Fund which was set up in that year. One of the beneficiaries of the scholarship fund is now for his doctorate degree at the University of Malaya.

With regards to I.T, computer literacy courses were first introduced to the GTC in 1989. This was followed by the establishment of the computer programming course for the blind in June 1992 with assistance from IBM, Malaysia. 1993 saw the First ASEAN Seminar on Computer Techology for the Blind organised by MAB in Kuala Lumpur. Subsequently, this has led to the setting up of the Cyber Cafe located at the MAB Complex and launched by the Deputy Prime Minister, Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on July 30, 2001.

The other main objective of MAB is, of course, blindness prevention and much work, therefore, has also been carried out in this field. This began with the launching of the prevention of blindness programmes in Selangor in 1969 and 1973 as well as in Trengganu in 1971 with the help of the Mobile Eye Clinic which was introduced in 1967. Financial and moral support were given by the Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind (RCSB) in the United Kingdom and the Ministry of Health of Malaysia.

These efforts culminated in the establishment of the Tun Hussein Onn Eye Hospital for which a fund-raising campaign was launched in 1983 by the MAB President, YAB Tun Hussein Onn. In 1984 the foundation stone for the eye hospital was laid by His Highness, the Sultan of Selangor on September 22. His Highness also launched the hospital at its grand opening in 1987. Finally, in March 1996, the hospital attained national status and became known as the Tun Hussein Onn National Eye Hospital.

The MAB was very fortunate to have had a number of distinguished visitors. In 1998 alone, the three distinguished visitors included the Yang Di Pertuan Agong who visited and opened the MAB complex on September 11, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II of Britain on September 23 and the DYMM Sultanah Kalsom of Pahang on November 12. In 2001 MAB had the honour of receiving two other distinguished visitors - Dato' Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohammad, the Prime Minister on May 4 to initiate the Reading Programme for Blind Children and Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Deputy Prime Minister, on July 30 to launch the Cyber Cafe for the blind. The MAB has also had the opportunity to share the lime-light with famous international pop artistes such as Cliff Richard who visited MAB in the 1960's and Joe Feliciano who visited in the early 1990's as well as Malaysian superstars such as Erra Fazira and Siti Nurhaliza who were MAB's visitors in 2001 when they also took part in the Reading Programme.

Indeed, throughout the 50 years of its history, MAB has striven hard to continually upgrade and expand its programmes and develop new services for the blind and visually impaired as well as to bring benefits to the community at large through its blindness prevention activities. MAB has also endeavoured constantly to meet the changing needs and challenges posed by technological advancements.

It is hoped that MAB will be able to go on meeting the needs of the blind and of society in the years to come. On June 16, 2001 the MAB Council held a brainstorming session and there are plans to reach out to the blind all over the country with the establishment of branches and through local community centres which will be set up to provide the blind at the district and state level with recreational facilities, braille equipment and access to reading materials and information technology.

As the MAB celebrates its fiftieth year which fall on November 21, 2001 by holding a charity banquet on November 9, 2001, this opportunity to place on record our heartfelt thanks for all the support and contributions to MAB made by friends and volunteers in cash, kind or service. We invite the public to join with us as we celebrate through our year-long programme of activities and festivities with the view to bringing about greater awareness of the work that is being done by the MAB in this country.


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