-Physical impairment causes the loss of many opportunities if the society has no awareness about how to encourage its handicapped members and make them productive and inspiring members of the society. Mr. Yonas has tackled the challenges of his blindness and has become a musical inspiration to many young students. His efforts, passion and strength are admirable indeed and he shares his experience with us.
-Tell us something about yourself Mr. Yonas
Thank you for having me on your page. I was born in 1972 in Asmara and I was raised here. Like all the vision impaired Eritreans, I went to Abraha Bahta School. It is there that I got everything I have in life: friends, family and education. I consider the school as my second mother. I started losing my sight during my childhood. I then joined the now Lalimba junior school. Students with high marks from the 8th grade general examination used to join today’s Sematat Secondary School.I was one of them. I joined the school with 99% score. However right before I finished high school in the 11th grade, I joined the armed struggle. I joined the Bdho group for the disabled and served as a brail corrector. We used to translate political writings of the front to brail form and also I served as a teacher as I was a good student till the last day of high school. After independence I came back to Asmara and started working as a teacher in the Abraha Bahta School; I have now been working as an academic and music teacher for 24 years of the post-independence period.
-How did your interest in music start?
It is actually one of the surprises that changed my life for the better. It was my father. My father had the habit of surprising his children. One day we were listening to the radio and he asked me if I could ever play like the music we were listening to; I responded positively. He then suddenly left us. I didn’t know where he went, but he actually went to register me in a music school. The following day, he took me there without telling me where we were going, and that was the day that changed my life! I was able to play the piano well within nine months and I also learned to play the guitar. However, I am mostly known as a pianist. I started dreaming of becoming a renowned musician.
-So did you become the musician you wanted to be?
Honestly, no. And forgive me if I don’t tell you why. But in few words, we can say that my disability was one of the main reasons, it is really hard to be a vision impaired musician. In fact when I was younger I was denied joining several musical groups. Honestly it broke my heart; but soon I joined the armed struggle.
-Tell us please about your days in the field?
We used to prepare brail books for freedom fighters who lost their sight because of war. But beyond the front the brail books were also reaching civilians. It was a very neat work. Even though we used to stay up until 4 most of the nights, and then wake up two hours later to teach the academics, it was an enjoyable and worthwhile journey. In the afternoons we’d attend political classes. The books were so remarkable that even after independence all the books were translated by the brail association at Abraha Bahta.
-Why do you teach Music?
Let me tell you, I have faced great amount of challenges in the music field because of my disability. I don’t want that to happen to somebody like me. I want to create an opportunity for people with disability to be able realize their dreams. I want to motivate them to lead a good life, to believe and work on their passions. There was a house for orphans next to my elementary school and we regularly used to hear them play music.I was so jealous that we couldn’t have such an opportunity.
When I became a teacher myself, I told my students that I’ll teach them music only if they’d score in the top 5. Incredibly, almost all started scoring high marks, and so I started an independent class for music.
‘Harn’ musical group was formed in 2011. After a while, the ‘Gogne Boarding School’ wanted to form a musical group and I suggested that they should take the 6th graders who were already in good shape when talking about musical skills. So here we are now, bit by bit, we’ll form even bigger institutions for more disabled musicians. In fact, currently, we are in the middle of intensive training with the group for this year’s national festival.
My overall goal is to help, with all my capacity, young disabled boys and girls interested in music. For instance, all the instruments which we’re using for training here are mine. I also lend them to my students whenever they want to use them. When I was younger I was very short of musical instruments; I think I understand what it feels like to not have access to musical instruments.
-What are you currently involved in and what do your future plans look like?
Well, I am involved in a lot of things besides preparing the musical group for the festival. I have also written a children book which hopefully will get published soon. I want to be a motivation for my students. Moreover, Fitsum Gaim and I collaborated in the development of a software that translates text documents to brail. We have plans to develop it even further. He is a smart guy and I would like to express my appreciation. I also have a plan to form an art center for the disabled.
-You are also married…
I am happily married to my wife Luela Desale. And have been blessed with five children. I am where I am because of my family. I have the greatest support with every little thing. For instance, I have two of the band members living with me, and my family takes care of them. I am grateful for everything they do for me.
-Anything you want to say at the end?
Yes please. It is hard to live with disabilities. However,the society should work hard to alleviate the challenges that disabled people encounter. Although my efforts are minimal I do them not for credit but for a spiritual calmness. Let’s give support with what we can. Life is easier when you help each other, especially to those who are living with disabilities.