I am a blind person who feels a lot of love and force: a testimony of life

“Your perception of the world is a reflection of your state of consciousness.”

My name is Antonia. I was 26 years old, I was reading at the time when I rubbed my eye and I resumed reading and suddenly I saw a dark spot in the middle of my eye, so I started to cover my eye and I realised that the spot was still there. The next day I went to the ophthalmologist and she said: “You have retinitis pigmentosa and in a year you are going to go blind” and added, “So, take the disability at work and get used to the idea that in a year you are going to go blind”. The deadline was in February and I spent the whole year waiting for that date which I dreaded and feared.

It had a tremendous impact on me that I could never have imagined. Then I thought that in a year’s time, I would go blind and I wouldn’t get out of there. I stayed home alone for two days, I cried a lot during those two days ーbecause crying is very good for youー I thought a lot about what I would do in the future, I don’t know if I ate, drank water or not, but on the third day when I got up, I took an orange, cut it in half and poured the juice in my mouth. I breathed, took a shower and felt like myself again. And when I heard the diagnosis, I said to myself: “When I lose my sight, I don’t want to be helped; I want to be someone who helps others”.

From then on, I was always waiting for February of the following year. I started to live a normal life, I told only a few close friends about what was happening to me, and in the meantime, I continued to work with my consciousness, my body, and my studies, and I created a lifestyle for myself. I was feeling better and better every day and I was dreading the month of February of the following year. When the month in question arrived, I realised that what the ophthalmologist had told me was not true. I confirmed my diagnosis of retinitis with the best doctors in Spain, and they told me that the doctor should not have told me that I would be blind in a year’s time. I forgot about the ophthalmologists and that I would go blind. Internally it strengthened me to repeat to myself: “I am not going to go blind; I am going to be a person who will take care of other blind people, but I will do it without being blind”. A few years went by, then I started to get closer to blind people and I realised that there were many blind people in Madrid, on the street selling coupons, but I had never realised it.

When I was trying to arrange my disability, they told me about the ONCE and I approached them, but later on, I met someone whose husband was blind and she said to me: “Why don’t I go to the ONCE and join”. ONCE is the Spanish National Organisation for the Blind (which facilitates and supports, through specialised social services, the personal autonomy and full social and labour integration of people with blindness and visual impairment and is financed by the sale of coupons, in a national lottery). What was my surprise when I got to know blind people closely, I reaffirmed once again that I would not remain blind, but that I had to see to help in any way I could. I was putting more and more force, more and more sense into this mission. I always said it to myself as my own conviction and not to others.

When I went to work at ONCE, like any other person from a large percentage of people, I went to sell coupons. That first day I went to work, they wanted to accompany me, but as I had a very high percentage of vision, I didn’t need them to feel sorry for me, or to accompany me. That strengthened me a lot and together with humanism and its people that I had met a year before the news of my blindness, I began to study psychology, and philosophy through my teacher Silo and other references such as Buddha, Socrates, Pythagoras and many other free thinkers.

Time passed from selling coupons to the public and I moved on to other work within the same organisation. I spent all that time working and as it strengthened me, I told the psychologist of the organisation about it, and when they did group therapy for the new blind people who were coming to work for the first time, they called me to tell my experience, because the new blind people always come with very bad feelings. And as the experience I told was with a lot of love and force, they left with a different attitude to the one they brought with them when they arrived. I felt so good, so useful, so fulfilled that I enjoyed working with and for blind people. I had very good friends because I always got on well with all the people and colleagues, coupon sellers and management.

At ONCE I learnt to write and read Braille, at that time I didn’t need rehabilitation as I had a visual impairment that allowed me to continue to be independent.

After a while I was told that I would be more useful in a management position, but as that position occupied me all day and was a managerial position, I did not accept it and continued selling coupons, because the difference between working four hours selling coupons and spending eight to ten hours in management did not compensate me for selling coupons, because I earned the same.

On one occasion, a very able blind lawyer, a member of parliament for two terms who was always concerned about making life easier for the blind community, helped to create a law that allowed blind people to retire earlier than the rest of the population.

All these years were happy and enriching for me and my loved ones. It was nothing like the first year I lived when I was given the news that I would lose my sight in a year. I continued to see with diminished capacity. Undoubtedly, as time went by, I lost more and more vision and I realised that using a cane is a guarantee of safety and makes it easier for people to be ready to help, as happens in official centres or airports. I also used the cane inside buildings, because for a person with retinitis pigmentosa, when you go from light to shadow, as happens when you enter its interior, everything becomes dark. Due to the abandonment in which we blind people have lived, as a defence against the deceptions we have suffered, blind people have developed a lot of distrust and suspicion, which is detrimental to our organisation and now we have to overcome this difficulty.

All this time after the first year, I dedicated myself to finding out how blind people lived in different parts of the world. I travelled to Chile where I started a project that failed and then I went to North Africa. At that time, I realised that Africa was only an hour away by plane and I dedicated myself to collaborating there entirely. The star project was to create in the Saharawi camps in Tindouf, Algeria, schools for blind children, since there, they educated all the children with some difficulty together, without differentiating the needs and educational preparations of each group, in this way and with effort, they had their own school exclusively for blind men and women.

I became responsible for sending material for blind people to several countries in South and Central America and North Africa.

At present and for the last six years I have started to see many lights day and night. According to ophthalmological studies, this usually happens to people who are going blind, so I am now a blind person because the lights prevent me from seeing. I have spent all this time strengthening myself and trying to ensure that the lights do not remain and go away, as happened with blindness.

I have been working with many blind people who have a disorder other than blindness, helping to inform them on a voluntary basis. On the other hand, I have been involved in informing parents of children with different disabilities including blind children that they can receive some benefits such as the right to inherit the salary of their parents when they die, which few people know about this right and it is lost due to misinformation and lack of knowledge. In addition, these differently abled children receive a state pension which they can continue to receive.

I could tell you many other things, but I get up at 8 am and spend most of the day solving or planning some free advice on how to solve many people’s difficulties. Now if I am blind and suffer from the lights, but nothing stops me.

In my journey, there have been small failures, but there have also been new learnings. I hope that everything goes well in Chile in this project full of trust and affection because I have rarely failed in everything that I have proposed to do, this satisfaction will be in this case, for all the blind men and women in Chile because the greatest work will be theirs. Now I am living one of the best moments of my life, hoping that the blind people of Chile will achieve their goal using the model of the ONCE in Spain with the help of all of you.

All this that I have told about my efforts and learning to help others I owe to the fact that a year before I was given the news that I was going blind I met the humanists, one of the important events in my life. I also owe it to the birth of my daughter in the month of February, which broke my suffering associated with the fact that I always waited for the following month of February because of the deadline for going blind. From then on, February is always a moment of happiness because of what it means, a milestone in my life. It was also important to get to know ONCE. But as you will understand, my daughter comes before everything else. I have been happy in my life despite the difficulties that always accompany us. I have been happy with my daughter.

As you will see my testimony is only related to blindness, I have mentioned my daughter separately from blindness, nothing else, because I think that the rest is not an interesting subject, for whoever may read this.

Finally, in almost all the days of my life, I never did anything for any material benefit; I did everything for my inner benefit, for it to make my consciousness upward and to do something meaningful in the world.

Without further ado, I bid you a warm heart-to-heart farewell, Antonia.

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1. “ok-Testimonio Antonia”
By: Antonia Rodríguez Matus, Member of Convergencia de las Culturas-Chile

Convergencia de las Culturas