International Institute for Social Entrepreneurs - ein Ausbildungsprojekt für junge blinde und sehbehinderte Menschen aus der ganzen Welt

Sabriye Tenberken und Paul Kronenberg wurden durch ihre Arbeit im Tibeth bekannt. Jetzt bauen sie in Kerala, Südindien, ein internationales Zentrum auf, in dem junge blinde und sehbehinderte Menschen lernen, in ihren Ländern ihre eigenen Entwicklungsprojekte zu verwirklichen. Unter dem Titel "Lighting up Lives" berichtet Saraswathy Nagarajan in The Hindu vom 14. Februar 2009 über den Start dieses ungewöhnlichen Projekts.

Sabriye Tenberken and Paul Kronenberg share a dream. Climbing mountains and crossing streams to follow their dreams come easy for this couple who envisage a bright future for the visually impaired. Sabriye’s life has been devoted to making that dream come true for her and thousands of others who share her disability.

Although Sabriye lost her eyesight at the age of 12, she is a visionary whose foresight has led to the establishment of the aesthetically designed, eco-friendly International Institute for Social Entrepreneurs (IISE) on the banks of the Vellayani Lake on the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram. The 38-year-old is a picture of confidence as she confidently tackles the muddy road from her rented house to the sprawling campus of the Institute. Her partner Paul, co-founder and co-director of the Institute, unobtrusively follows her as she leads, white cane in hand.

Dream factory

“We plan to develop catalysts and leaders who will take up such projects in their respective countries. We want committed and talented adults who are visually impaired to see blindness as a challenge, as an adventure. We want them to dream and dream big. So this place will be a dream factory and we will also equip them with the skills to turn that dream into reality,” says Sabriye. And when Sabriye speaks, the world tends to listen as the word impossible does not exist in her dictionary. “I am a stubborn person who cannot take no for an answer. So when I want to do something, I do it,” she says.

Sabriye, which means “resilience or patience in Arabic,” says she must have inherited the determination from her mother who travelled through Turkey, dressed as a man to do research on Islamic art and architecture in Turkey.

The same streak of independence that made Sabriye study Tibetology as she was drawn towards Tibet. When she found that a system of Braille did not exist for the Tibetan language, she developed one in 1992 to be able to master her study. When she found that people doubted her ability to travel to Tibet on her own, in 1997 she travelled through the inner regions of Tibet on horseback where she met Paul.

In 1998 both of them returned to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, to open the first training centre for the blind. “There were children who had never seen the sun or stepped outside their homes. We had to make them believe in themselves and get rid of their self-pity. We wanted them to feel: ‘I am blind, so what?”’ she recalls. Eventually, the children who were taught English, Chinese and Tibetan could turn around and declare: ‘Yes, we are blind but we speak, read and write three languages. How about you?’ Later, a farm was opened to teach the visually impaired animal husbandry, vegetable cultivation and cheese-making.

Enthused by their Tibetan experience Sabriye and Paul established Braille Without Borders (BWB) in 2002.

In three books Sabriye encapsulates the Tibetan experience: ‘My Path Leads to Tibet,’ ‘Tashis neue Welt’ and ‘The Seventh Year.’ Recognition and media came knocking to acknowledge the work of BWB and Sabriye was invited as a guest on an Oprah Winfrey show. “Meanwhile, we were on the lookout for a place to open our centre to develop social entrepreneurs. Navin Ramachandran, who hails from Thiruvananthapuram, happened to read an interview about the work of BWB published in the New York Times. In this interview it was mentioned that we were planning to start a centre in South India. He got in touch with us and we came to Kerala.”

While location hunting, on the last day of their trip to Kerala, Sabriye and Paul stumbled upon the place where the IISE stands today. The ecologically built campus has incorporated rain water harvesting, biogas, solar/wind energy and waste management systems along with ecosan toilets.

One-year programme

As Paul and Sabriye walk you around the campus, Paul talks about the one-year programme that they have conceptualised to develop social entrepreneurship. “The 23 participants here, who were selected from 14 countries, for their drive and leadership skills, are being trained in management, fundraising, public relations work, project planning, computers, soft skills, communication and English. They will need these skills to negotiate with governments and to raise funds. We hope these participants will lead by example and have a snowball effect that will motivate all kinds of people.”

The participants of the programme at IISE will have to submit a 10-page project proposal and present a 15-minute multi media public speech. The winner will receives the Anandi-Ramachandran-Award of 5000 Euro to implement his/her social or environmental project. Participants for 2010 can apply for a full scholarship until May 2009. (Contact details project Kerala:E-mail:

Sabriye is confident that the blind can contribute to society. “Why can’t we? We have good communication skills, listening skills, memory and problem solving skills. We can give a lot to society. We are not aliens.”

The Hindu, 14/02/2009