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MONDAY MAN: Saved by three blind men


KIMBERLEY CUMMINS

MONDAY MAN: Saved by three blind men

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MARK STOUTE wasn’t born blind but blindness has brought new light to his life.

In the 1970s, Stoute was one of Barbados’ top fast bowlers. He opened the bowling many a season for Spartan Cricket Club and later he even played for a year with Empire, thanks to the late Sir Theodore Brancker, who was then president.

However, when Stoute realised he would never be selected to represent the West Indies because of the many great players around him, he opted for umpiring, all the while teaching biology at Ellerslie Secondary School where he spent 35 years.

Stoute explained during an interview at his home in Station Hill, St Michael, that it was while umpiring that he realised his sight was deteriorating.

“I remember very well it was a game against the Trinidadians and I called a wide off the hip of a player. [In cricketing terms, if the ball touches the person’s bat or any part of the body, a wide should not be called.]

“I heard the snickering in the pavilion and when the batsman got down to the end, he said the ball touched the man’s thigh pad but I didn’t see it. I didn’t see it at all,” he maintained.

Stoute’s ambition at the time was to be an international umpire. Just a couple of months earlier, he had graduated top of his class with a 97.5 per cent passing grade in the West Indies cricket umpires’ examination. But rather than make elementary mistakes and ruin his reputation, he decided to “pull stumps”.

A few months later he travelled to the United States and had a routine operation to remove what he believed was “just cataract”.

“I had the cataract removed from both eyes and I thought that was the problem, but it wasn’t. When I came back and I tried to settle back into umpiring, I found they were all right in the morning when I got up but as soon as the sun came out – problems; everything became cloudy.”

It would take another few months before Stoute determined he would see a specialist about his condition.

Then he learnt he had glaucoma (increased pressure within the eyeball causing gradual loss of sight). He was blind in the right eye while the other eye was gradually degenerating.

The father of four recalled that he became depressed and for about two years “withered away in St Lucy”, refusing to see anyone. But one day on a trip to Bridgetown he met three blind men arm in arm.

“I was curious and so I asked them where they were going because I realised I had to find a new paradigm; I wasn’t doing well among sighted people,” Stoute said.

That was when he was introduced and warmly received at the Workshop For The Blind.

He was there for a couple of weeks before the late Dorian Pile, Combermere’s first female principal, who knew about his years in education, approached him about introducing an educational programme at the workshop.

It has been four years since English and business studies programmes, taught by Stoute and Tennyson Cummins, respectively, were added to complement the information technology course previously offered.

This year there were nine Grade 1, 14 Grade 2 and three Grade 3 passes, with plans now to offer the subject at CAPE. Five blind members also successfully took a BIMAP course.

Even though he now has less than three per cent vision in the left eye, Stoute said he has fully adjusted and hoping to be an inspiration for other people in similar circumstances.

He admitted that before he was blind, he never paid any interest in the plight of the differently abled community because “I never believed it could happen to me”. But now, he added, it could happen to anyone, so his advice to all is not to discriminate, as there is life after blindness.

“I played cricket by the YMPC [Young Men’s Progressive Club] ground several times over my cricketing years and I saw that blind workshop there, but it did not register to me. I just saw it as a place where people just went to cane chairs, because at that time blindness had a stigma and people saw it as a mendicant kind of thing.

“But that is not what happens there. These people earn a living down there and they are qualifying themselves to get positions to compete in the workforce.

“I used to look at blindness as though it wasn’t much to worry about, but I never thought I would have ended up with it. And that is what happens to a lot of our people because they are not aware that tomorrow could be their time – it can happen to anyone.

“We know of 30 to 40 new blind persons in Barbados annually and the number keeps getting bigger, especially because of diabetes, people playing sports – things happen,” Stoute said.

He had some advice for the disabled: “Do not shut yourself away. Try to get a mentor, someone who would inspire you. People who have children who are disabled, bring them to the fore because they are not a disgrace.

“There are so many blind people out there. There are so many disabled people. The last count totalled about 14 000.

“We are trying to have a kind of diaspora where there is a togetherness; where we can show the world we can do so many things, that we have talents . . . but we just need to have it all harnessed.

“Come out if you are disabled, blind; do not sit back.” (SDB Media)

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