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News Feature: Light in the darkness at Tibet school for blind children

LHASA, Sept. 7 (Xinhua) -- Kyila, 29, has lived in darkness since she was born.

But she likes teaching her students, who are also blind, a Tibetan song: "We all have bright and beautiful eyes. I see the beautiful souls in the world, and you see the light in our hearts."

"For the first 12 year of my life, I was placed in a safe corner at home, always waiting for my parents to dress or feed me," she said.

Her parents, like many other Tibetans who believe in reincarnation, considered her blindness a punishment for sins in the previous life. "I was sad when people sighed and lamented my fate," she said.

When she was 12, however, Kyila's luck changed thanks to Sabriye Tenberken, a German woman who herself is blind.

At Tenberken's school for blind children on the Tibetan plateau, Kyila learned to read and write in Braille, Tibetan, Chinese and English. She also learned computer and therapeutical massage skills and was given the opportunity to study in the United States, Britain, Canada and Germany.

In 2011, Kyila opened a kindergarten for visually impaired children and named it "Kiki's Kindergarten." Kiki means "happiness" in Tibetan.

"In my kindergarten, blind children play, run around and climb trees with their friends. They learn important skills and discover it is not the end of the world to be blind," Kyila said.

Kiki's kindergarten, a non-governmental organization, works with Tibet Disabled Persons Federation and Braille Without Borders.

The kindergarten's operating cost of 200,000 yuan (31,420 U.S. dollars) per year is mostly covered by donations from individuals and organizations from China and abroad.

It started with only eight children, all of whom entered primary school after having acquired basic life and communication skills in kindergarten.

The school currently has 26 students aged 4 to 7, all from poor Tibetan families in remote areas. All of them are boarding students, and food, lodging and tuition are free.

"I want them to enjoy their childhood and grow up just like healthy children," said Kyila in an interview with Xinhua Monday.

The children are taught to sing, dance, paint, read Braille and play musical instruments. The kindergarten has several instruments, including an accordion, a guitar and an electronic organ.

They paint with scented crayons whose colors are distinguishable by smell: green has an apple scent, and pink smells like strawberry.

On sunny days, Kyila takes the children out to play games and picnic in the fields.

Except for three full-time nurses, most of Kyila's colleagues are volunteers, including teachers, doctors and students.

Kyila is currently busy putting the finishing touches on her new campus. Next month she will move the kindergarten from her home city of Xigaze to Lhasa. "The two-story building has been refurbished and I've placed orders for furniture."

The decision to move was not made lightly.

"One winter night in 2013, eight children had a high fever. I took them to a hospital in Xigaze, but was told the doctors there were not experienced enough to provide adequate treatment," said Kyila.

She and her colleagues spent at least six hours rushing the children to Lhasa. "Fortunately, the children were treated in time and recovered soon."

But the nightmarish experience taught Kyila that the kindergarten had to move. "Had their cases been critical, that long journey could have put their lives at risk."

Rental costs for the new location are covered by a charity run by a temple in Shanghai.

"We are grateful for Kyila's care for the blind children," said Wangchen Geleg, deputy director of the Tibet Disabled Persons Federation. "She's doing great work to help visually impaired people live a better life."

He said Tibet has about 200,000 disabled people, and the federation spent around 400,000 yuan on preschool education for disabled children between 2011 and 2014.

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