Alieu Jaiteh is one of three recipients of the 2019 Holman Prize for Blind Ambition. The Holman Prize is awarded annually by LightHouse for the Blind to three blind individuals with ambitious ideas. With his award of $25,000, Alieu will provide blindness skills training to eighty people in rural Gambia.
Born and raised in The Gambia, Alieu became blind shortly after graduating high school. He was interested in being an accountant, but as he explains, “In The Gambia, when you are blind, you have two options: to become a teacher or a beggar. Well, I didn’t want to be a beggar, so I chose to become a teacher.”
After graduating from The Gambia College, Alieu applied and won a scholarship to kanthari international, an institute which provides leadership training for people who want to make social change. His instructors at kanthari were impressed with his work and leadership skills and secured funding to send him to the Louisiana Center for the Blind in the United States. At the Louisiana Center, Alieu learned rehabilitation and technology skills. “I had never cooked for myself before,” he explains.
After experiencing the services and opportunities available to blind people firsthand, Alieu knew that he wanted those same things for blind people in his country. “I said to myself, I have to change the system. I started dreaming and wondering what I could do for myself and all the visually impaired people in The Gambia. That is where the dream of Start Now began.”
Start Now Gambia, founded by Alieu, provides rehabilitation and technology training to blind Gambians. Start Now’s mission is to provide blind people with the training they need to work in a variety of fields. As word spread about his organization, Alieu was met with skepticism. “People said this won’t work. It’s a waste of time,” Alieu explains. Alieu’s response was frank. “This is about changing lives. These are services that are not available here.” Start Now Gambia has continued with the hard work of Alieu and other liked-minded people in The Gambia.
Alieu learned about the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition in 2017. He realized the prize would provide him an opportunity to expand his training outside of the capital of Banjul and into rural Gambia. He applied in 2018 and became a finalist but did not win. In 2019, Alieu considered applying again, but was skeptical about his chance for winning because of the caliber of the competition. Finally, with only two weeks left of the submission period, he applied. When asked what he did differently from the first time he applied, Alieu says, “I wrote a more focused, creative and detailed proposal.”
The Holman Prize is named for James Holman, a blind explorer who was the most prolific traveler of anyone, blind or sighted, before the era of modern transportation. The prize is about shattering misconceptions and changing expectations about what blind people can do. On winning the Holman Prize, Alieu says, “This is an opportunity to transform the lives of blind and partially sighted people in rural Gambia to become confident and independent. This award is a dream come true and obviously a motivating spirit for all my future activities.”
Alieu’s Holman Prize journey began last October. Follow along at HolmanPrize.org or on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Subscribe to the Holman Prize email newsletter by sending a message to firstname.lastname@example.org.