BEIRUT: In a room of Furn al-Shubbak’s press club Monday, students practice their radio voice with Antoine Mrad, the general manager of Radio Liban Libre, while some read sample lines out loud from their books.
But they follow with their hands, as the 14 students following this intensive journalism course are all visually impaired.All students participating in the 15-day training, a first in the country, are university graduates, some even more qualified than others. Ghassan Hanna, 35, has three undergraduate degrees and three master’s, and is preparing a fourth one. He is already the author of four books, and chose to participate in the program for his “personal culture” and to find a job in journalism.
The Cadmos Foundation, which is partly handling the Italian Embassy-funded program, created a textbook for students, translating all their professors’ classes into Braille. But Hanna says he never learned Braille for “psychological reasons,” as he only lost his sight 10 years ago.
Fadi Sidawi, 37, is following the class in his textbook. He says he’s not sure he wants to be a journalist but was “very excited” about the training course.
He also hopes he’ll be able to find a job after the course, as he has been unemployed since 2002, when he graduated with a degree in English literature.
He says he would like to work for a radio station. “You have to be a good looking person to work for television. In a radio station, nobody will be looking at you; they just focus on the way you talk, the way you pronounce.
That’s what students are practicing today. Mrad explains that a radio voice doesn’t have to be “beautiful.” What matters he says, is self-confidence, speaking clearly, having good pronunciation and knowledge of grammar rules, especially if working in Arabic.
After listening to students doing their best to speak clearly about a presidential visit or a parliamentary decision, Mrad often points out at mispronunciations of letters, reassuring his students by explaining that the problem is widespread among Arabic speakers when speaking classical Arabic.
Hani Safi, who is a journalist at Voice of Lebanon radio and MTV, is also training the future journalists. He says he agreed to participate in the program out of “charity,” but realized when he met his students that “we’re the ones with special needs, not them.”
Safi teaches newswriting for television, radio and newspapers, and says he is impressed by his students’ memory and learning capacities.
“They’re so smart, they know so many things,” he says, calling for media organizations to hire visually impaired journalists. “They will really be satisfied,” he says, hoping the training will help his students to find a job.
Saad Elias, a reporter at Al-Balad newspaper, has been teaching journalism at the Lebanese University for three years, and says he had to adapt for this training.
“There are sometimes some difficulties for exercises as students can’t write and read [non-Braille], but they will be recording their homework on a tape next week,” he says, also agreeing the trainees are all attentive, smart and willing to learn.
The president of Cadmos, Amine Lebbos, said the training, implemented in partnership with the Social Affairs Ministry, is linked to a Braille weekly newspaper project that was launched by An-Nahar newspaper last year.
For now, articles are translated from An-Nahar, but Lebbos hopes in the future that trained visually impaired journalists will contribute to it.
Lebbos says the main objective of the training is to help students to find a job, by teaching them journalism skills but also by allowing them to create a network of contacts, and “open doors” to them.
He says a second training should take place later this year, and hopes to schedule training courses regularly in the future.