Social Issues

Colombian program helps the blind “see” birds with their ears

By Ernesto Guzman Jr. and Ovidio Castro

Cali, Colombia, Feb 12 (EFE).- The San Felipe hacienda on the outskirts of this southwestern city offers visually impaired people the chance to sample the ornithological riches of Colombia via birdsong.

With 1,900 different species, Colombia leads the world in avian diversity, according to the conservation group Proaves.

For 29-year-old Stiven Santander, who lost his vision nine years ago in a traffic accident, the idea of “seeing with the ears” was intriguing enough to make a visit to San Felipe.

“It’s something marvelous,” he tells Efe. “Because it’s a welcoming space, where we can enjoy not only the birds, but the surrounding nature and all of the sounds in the air.”

The owners of San Felipe Birding, Clara Cabarcas and husband Carlos Calle, broke the mold to transform what had been a family country retreat into a paradise for 186 species of birds, including both permanent residents and others who pass through on their seasonal migrations.

After carefully arraying flowering and fruit-bearing plants and installing bird-feeders, the couple consulted experts to create a path through the 22-hectare (54-acre) property suited to the needs of visually impaired people, complete with a “lifeline” to guide them.

“Here, everything is very safe and we can get close to nature, listen to the birds and feel the sounds,” a visitor named Walter says.

Last year, Asociacion Rio Cali, which organizes the annual Colombia Birdfair event in Cali, established South America’s first bird-watching route for people with impaired vision.

“Blind people have the capacity to awaken all of their senses. It’s not that they don’t see, rather they have a different way of seeing things,” Asociacion Rio Cali’s Fernanda Jordan, tells Efe.

Before embarking on tours, the visitors handle detailed models of the various bird species to become familiar with them by touch and listen to recordings of birdsong.

“Some of our visitors are blind from birth, but there are others who lost their sight recently,” Jordan says. “But despite everything, they are people who have a very positive attitude toward life.” EFE eg-ocm/dr

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