Using misfortune to help others
At 19, Abuwi Rasool lost his sight.
He was working in the government quarry when dynamite he’d laid a month before exploded in front of him.
Most of his clothing blew off and the burns covered his right side, “from my knee to my forehead”.
Doctors and nurses didn’t hold out much hope for survival.
“A nurse was in my room and another woman came in and asked how I was,” said Mr Rasool, who is now 88. “She told her it wouldn’t be long.”
With that in mind, he broke out in a smile when he learnt that he was blind.
“The eye specialist said he’d never seen that reaction before, but I was just happy to be alive,” he said.
Mr Rasool left King Edward VII Memorial Hospital in November 1948 after almost a month in recovery.
“My mother, Beatrice Tacklyn, really encouraged me,” said Mr Rasool, who was born Wilfred John Tacklyn.
“She told me to look to blind musician Lance Hayward for inspiration. She said he was able to get around on his own and I would too.”
His story was covered extensively by the media, which highlighted the lack of opportunities for Bermuda’s blind.
The Government didn’t compensate him for his injuries and the only job the St George’s resident could find was selling copies of The Royal Gazette in King’s Square.
“Newspapers were three pence when I started selling them,” he said. “On a good day I might sell 100. It wasn’t enough to make a living, but it helped.”
Lady Gladys Hall formed the Association for the Blind in response. The organisation, along with the Government, paid for him to spend seven months at the Industrial Home for the Blind in Brooklyn, New York. There, he learnt Braille, how to get around on his own and various handicrafts in a bid to become independent.
“After being in Brooklyn, I was never afraid to get around again. I could go anywhere,” he said.
He returned home and teamed up with Mr Hayward to form the Beacon Club. The organisation provided fellowship and assistance to Bermuda’s blind until the 1990s.
“At that time a lot of blind people just sat at home and did nothing,” said Mr Rasool.
“I met Jean Howes. She worked at Gibbons Company for a long time. We were great friends for years before she passed away. We were the first people in Bermuda to learn Braille.”
In 1962, he headed off to the Royal School for the Blind in Surrey, England, to learn how to better help the blind community here.
“I was only one of two fully blind students at the school who was allowed to go out and get around on my own.
“I had a friend who lived in Devon [150 miles away] and I’d take the train to Exeter to see him.”
When he returned to Bermuda, Mr Rasool taught handicrafts and helped the needy blind at Beacon House, then newly established on Beacon Street in Hamilton.
“I remember one lady who came in,” he said.
“Her daughter complained that all she did was sit at home and do nothing. The first time she came to Beacon House, I spent all day talking with her and showing her how to weave baskets. At the end of the day I said she could take the basket home.
“When her daughter came, she couldn’t believe she’d made that.”
Members also made mops and brooms for hotels, supermarkets and government departments to give them a little cash.
“The hardest part about running Beacon House was finding the money,” Mr Rasool said. “We needed a lot of money to keep our programmes running.”
He worked there until 2001 when an accident put him in a wheelchair.
“I was living alone,” he said. “I came home on the Friday night. I remember being on the floor and that’s it. It wasn’t until Monday morning that someone found me. The doctors think it was related to my diabetes.”
He spent two years at KEMH before he was moved to Sylvia Richardson Care Facility.
“I think in my life I am most proud of all the years I spent working at Beacon House,” he said. “We really helped people.”
He’s also proud of the extensive travelling he has done.
“I’ve been to the United States, England, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia and China,” he said.
“When I went abroad I had a guide, but in Hamilton I walked around with a cane.”
He never had a guide dog, fearing it would be more trouble than help.
At age 63, he joined the crew of the Lord Nelson tall ship, and sailed across the English Channel.
“The ship was equipped for handicapped people,” Mr Rasool said. “There were lifts to take you from deck to deck.
“When steering the ship, I had a compass that beeped in a certain way if the ship was going off course.”
One of his favourite moments was when he climbed the mast.
“Another lady did it, so I figured if she could do it so could I,” he said.
“It was easy. I felt really good doing that.”
He spends his days listening to television and participating in activities at the home. He attends mosque most Fridays.
“I converted to Islam,” he said. “At one point I was drinking and smoking a lot. I told a friend about it and he said I should come to a meeting with him. I went with him and joined the Nation of Islam in 1970.”
It helped him to clean up his life.
“A lot of the buddies I had before joining are gone now,” he said. “I think if I hadn’t joined I’d be gone too, due to the smoking and drinking.”
Looking back, he says he wouldn’t change a thing.
“I’m satisfied with my life,” he said.
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