Blind Ambition: A story of hope

Blind Ambition
Halain Irakunda made his way quickly through IWC’s English program with hopes of becoming a lawyer and businessperson. / MICHELLE BOTH

The scars on his face have faded since he was attacked eight years ago. He knows they are there, although he cannot see them. Halain Irakunda is legally blind. The 21-year-old arrived in Hamilton seven months ago from Kenya’s Kakuma Refugee Camp, where he lived for eight years.
Halain was born in the Congo, where ethnic tensions run high. His mother and father were from different tribes that were not living in peace, and their families did not approve.

“When my father died, there was a little war in my family,” he said. His mother was murdered and they came for the children as well. He still has scars on his body from having boiling water thrown at him.

His neighbour rescued them and took them to Kenya to stay with their aunt. Once reaching the refugee camp in Kenya, he grew very ill. His body did not respond well to the medicine he was given – and he lost his sight.

He and his siblings still live with their aunt today, in their new home in Hamilton.

Halain's Story
Halain Irakunda sits in his first English classroom at IWC. The 22-year-old became legally blind after an allergic reaction to medicine while living in Kenya’s Kakuma Refugee Camp. /MICHELLE BOTH

The goal of becoming a lawyer and businessperson may sound ambitious, but Halain Irakunda knows he is right on track. His story has sent a ripple through his English school, now known as the student who went from zero to level 7 in just four months.

When Halain first arrived at IWC, he came with his English Language assessment in hand: Reading – 0; Writing – 0; Speaking – 2; Listening – 2. But his first days in English class, he realized he was in the wrong place. He upgraded from class to class – noticing his English was still more advanced than the lessons being taught. His teachers soon discovered why – his English assessment did not factor in his disability.

IWC staff contacted the Canadian National Institute for the Blind to find a solution – the opportunity to write the test in Braille. It was then that he passed his Level 7 test with a 90% mark.

“When I went to my [assessment] test I was afraid, not confident,” he explained. After a few months, he had an awakening, he said. “I discovered that I could make it. I started to be more constant and confident.”

“He is an A+ student now,” Hayam Mazen, IWC English Teacher said. He is continuing English classes at IWC until he can begin adult education – eager to keep learning and preparing for college.

“In five years from now – first of all, I want my language to be strong,” he said. “After that I want to do a good job that will help me get a good income.”

Each day he is inspired by his mantra: “Practice makes perfect.” And practising, he is doing.