Bees for Development Journal 134 March 2020
Empowering beekeepers who live with disability: How can a blind person keep bees? Sean Lawson, Project Manager, Bees for Development Images © Bees for Development
“People would ask, how can a blind person keep bees?” Since 2006, Jennifer has been unable to see. “At first, this was incredibly difficult to accept,” she told me during my visit in August 2019, “however I’m now coming to terms with it.” As a widow with young children, Jennifer’s independence was everything to her. However, when she became visually impaired, she could no longer move freely around the house, get her children ready for school, or work to provide for the family. These were heavy burdens for someone who had been unexpectedly thrust into the role of head of the household. When I first met Jennifer, I was amazed by the progress, courage and resolve that she has demonstrated with her beekeeping over the last few years. Jennifer is one of fifteen severely visually impaired people involved in the Project that Bees for Development is running in partnership with The Uganda National Apiculture Development Organisation.
A mobility line set up in an apiary – the stick warns visually impaired beekeepers that they are one metre away from the hive. Jennifer was sceptical at first. “When I was first approached by Hive Uganda (one of the Project partners), I thought to myself, how can someone who is visually impaired be a beekeeper?” This mindset is not uncommon among people with visual impairments, who sometimes feel there is little that they can contribute, or that they are a burden to their families. This led me to rethink what it means to be a beekeeper. In the UK, we tend to purchase hives at great expense, whereas beekeepers in Uganda often make their own hives. Is one more of a beekeeper than the other? Ultimately, keeping bees is about making decisions: what is best for your bees? How can you care for them? When should you harvest? Being physically able to build a hive or lift it on to its stand is not as important as we might think. Nobody would dispute that Francois Huber, one of the 19th Century’s greatest entomologists, was a
Jennifer Abalo working in her apiary 3