Thomas Philip

Thomas Philip

Living the Movement: The Perspective from Sudan

by Thomas Philip


            From the Editor: Thomas Philip came to this country less than three years ago and now serves as President of the Minnesota Association of Blind Students. He was the second person to address the topic of Living the Movement. This is what he said:


            The English writer Salman Rushdie once said: "The sun is a blessing, and a blessing requires the gratitude of the blessed." These words frequently visited my mind when I became blind at the age of ten. For two years I suffered isolation and despair, discrimination and rejection, not only from my countrymen and women, but also from my family. My dad, who is the husband of five wives and the father of more than thirty children, made it clear through his actions that he didn't want anything to do with a blind child. My mother loved me, but at the same time she did not know what to do with me. By the end of the second year, however, I decided that it was time for me to fight for freedom and independence.

            When I graduated from the Rejaf Center for the Blind at the age of thirteen, I told my father that I was ready to go back to school. In theory he agreed to help me do it, but in practice he thought it was not worthwhile to send a blind child to school. As a result, I took the initiative to go and tell the director of the Catholic school myself. The director said my blindness made it impossible for me to join the public school. However, I told him I could use the slate and stylus to take notes and even to Braille my textbooks. I added that I could take all my exams aurally since none of the teachers there knew Braille.

            In the end he gave me the chance to try it for two weeks. In this short time I proved to them that blind kids could compete on terms of equality with their sighted peers. Since then, we, the blind of southern Sudan, have never been denied the right to go to school. This is how each of us can change what it means to be blind in different corners of the earth.

            But at the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, hundreds of blind Africans suffered injustice at the hands of blind Arabs for political reasons. Some were forced to give up their identity and beliefs, while others were denied services. As the Secretary for Southern Affairs at that time, I took a militant stand against such practices. Consequently they attempted to assassinate me. Luckily I flew to Ethiopia and became a refugee for three years.

            That was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. When I came to the United States two-and-a-half years ago, I went to BLIND, Inc., in Minneapolis, Minnesota, for proper blindness training. There I began, not only to hear more and more about the history and the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind, but to experience its love when they taught me to do things I had been told that blind people couldn't do.

            I started reading NFB literature and talking to many Federationists about the organization. In the end I came to the conclusion that the National Federation of the Blind was the family I had been looking for, a family built on love and commitment, a family of collective action and self-determination. I joined the Federation, and all my family members warmly welcomed me.

            Now I am no longer a lonely blind man trying to kill an elephant all by myself. Whenever I face obstacles, there is always somebody to talk to, somebody ready to take action. This is why I am a Federationist and why I hope all of you are Federationists as well. You and I have indeed come a long way and must continue to work with love and commitment as we journey down the road to first-class status in America.

            In closing, I would like to leave you with the wonderful words of Mr. Albert Einstein: "A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving."