Education: Muenselling Institute (MI) for the visually impaired in Khaling, Trashigang, is quiet, very quiet.

Founded in 1973 by a Norwegian couple upon invitation and advice of Prince Namgyel Wangchuck, Muenselling Institute is the only institute for the visually impaired in the country.

Jamtsho, a 12-year-old boy, comes feeling the walls and measuring his steps carefully. He is wearing a pair of fancy yellow sunglasses. He has a white cane to guide his steps.

Jamtsho, who has been living and studying in the institute for the past five years, could not see from birth. He has a rare medical condition called anopthalmia.

Like Jamtsho, the institute has 40 visually impaired students studying from pre-primary to eighth grade. For them, the institute is the only place that they can call home.

“I like staying here because I have lots of friends. When I go back home, I feel alone and left out,” says Jamtsho, hitting the pavement lightly with his cane. “And I love singing and listening to music.” Jamtsho has lately developed hearing problem.

Kuenga Chhoegyel, one of the first students of the institute and now a teacher here, recalls how it all started. There were three small wooden cottages supported by missionaries from abroad.

“And there were only three of us in 1973. Male teachers were called sahibs and female teachers memsahibs,” says Kuenga Chhoegyel. “The institute was then called School for the Blind.”

Back then, in the 1970s, students were taught the art of weaving bamboo baskets and traditional belts besides academic lessons. Music was added as a new programme in 1976. Efforts were made to make the education wholly integrated. Visually impaired students could go to Jigme Sherubling and Kanglung to study with seeing students.

The institute was handed over to the government in 1989. Changes occurred because of budget constraints.  Most of the vocational facilities were stopped leaving academically weak students with less choice. Music was let to be, however.

In 1995, the institute changed its name to National Institute for the Disabled. Great change was in the offing. In the early 2000s, computers arrived for students. Kuenga Chhoegyel had joined the institute as a teacher by then. The institute sent Kuenga Chhoegyel to Thailand for a three-month training. Everything would change after his return.

In 2007, with Norwegian support, the institute started installing computers. Visually impaired students and in-service candidates were trained on the basics of computers and computing. An IT syllabus was framed. And in 2010, the institute’s name changed to National Institute for the Visually Impaired.

“After the system of special education started, physically impaired students were sent to Thimphu, while those with hearing problems were sent to Paro. So the name NID was no longer relevant,” says Kuenga Chhoegyel. “Finally, in 2012, we decided to retain the original name of the institute.”

About 150 students have studied in the institute so far, of which, 40 of them have got employment.

“Almost 60 students would have dropped out because it is difficult and challenging being blind. Many could not take the pressure and left the institute,” says Kuenga Chhoegyel.

By Tshering Wangdi, Khaling