November 13 is annually observed as International Day of the Blind. On the eve of this significant date, the chairman of the Society of the Blind of Abkhazia, Ezabay Kapba, who has been leading the organisation since 2009, shared insights in an interview with Apsnypress about the activities of the Society.
Alexey Shamba, Elvira Gorzolia | ApsnyPress
The conversation was challenging. The Society faces many problems that have been unresolved for decades, and there are insufficient options to truly improve the situation. Almost everything traditionally boils down to funding, which is simply non-existent.
What was particularly striking, however, was something else. Despite being completely blind due to a mine explosion immediately after the Patriotic War of the People of Abkhazia, the chairman of the Society does not lose his optimism and energy, making utmost efforts to help the visually impaired in any way possible. The following sections detail how he manages this, which organisations he has had to turn to for support over the past 14 years, and what the outcomes were.
Numbers and Facts
– Ezabay Kapba, could you please tell us when the Society was founded?
Ezabay Kapba: It was established in 1957. In Sukhum, on Chachkhalya Street, the state allocated a land plot. Later, with the funds of the Society of the Blind of Georgia, the Abkhaz Educational and Production Enterprise consisting of several buildings was constructed.
By the end of the 1980s, the political situation between Abkhazia and Georgia worsened again. As a result, on September 27, 1991, a decree by the Council of Ministers of Abkhazia nationalised the land along with the buildings. Another decree was issued on March 6, 1992, by the same governing body, transferring ownership of the property to Abkhazia.
– How did the Patriotic War of the People of Abkhazia and its aftermath affect the organisation?
It was very hard. After the war, nothing was left there; everything was looted and destroyed. In October 1994, by the order of the head of the Sukhum Administration, another building was allocated to us, where we are still operating. Previously, it was a kindergarten for the children of employees at the “Lakomka” confectionery factory.
– How many people are registered with the Society?
When I became chairman in 2009, I immediately requested a list of visually impaired individuals. It turned out there were 518 people. Later, we advertised on television and in print, inviting visually impaired people to register with our Society. They called and asked what kind of assistance they could expect. When I explained our modest capabilities, many felt that registering was not particularly meaningful. Currently, we have 45 people registered, four of whom are visually impaired veterans of the Patriotic War of the People of Abkhazia.
– What are the main causes of vision loss among your wards?
The aftermath of the war, many cases of glaucoma, and there are also congenital pathologies, like in our youngest member, Alexander Agrba, who is now 17 years old. He has been registered with us since he was 5, and his parents took him to Russia for treatment several times, but unfortunately, it didn’t help.
Modestly, but Honestly
– What benefits do visually impaired individuals get from registering with the Society?
We try to provide financial assistance. The amounts are small, but there is a positive trend. For example, if in 2009 we were able to help the visually impaired with a total of 9,000 rubles (around $97), last year that amount increased to 332,400 rubles (around $3,610).
– How do you earn these funds?
We rent out several premises and have a carpentry workshop as part of the Society. The income from its operation is very low; for instance, last year the average monthly revenue from the workshop was only 7,500 rubles (around $82).
– Do visually impaired people work in this workshop?
Unfortunately, we don’t have machines that would allow visually impaired people to work safely. A professional carpenter works there.
– In Soviet times, there were many specialised production complexes designed for people with vision problems. Is there anything similar in Abkhazia today?
There are no such enterprises now. According to the old members of the Society, before the war, there were such facilities in Gudauta and Sukhum, producing wallets, paper bags, and cardboard packaging for shoes. Unfortunately, they no longer exist.
– Is there a need for these enterprises?
There are few who wish to work, as most of our registered members are elderly and often ill. Some are completely bedridden and can’t even come here to socialise, let alone work.
Silence in Response
– Does the Society collaborate with city ophthalmologists and private eye clinics?
– No, but we have attempted to. I even reached out to the Fedorov Eye Microsurgery Clinic. They have an equipped medical ship for examinations and treatments, which could dock at our port to assist those who cannot travel outside the republic. Unfortunately, nothing materialised. Perhaps our local authorities should have facilitated this. I raised this issue with the Ministry of Social Security and the Ministry of Health, but to no avail.
– Have you established relationships with similar societies in Russia?
No. I have tried to contact them multiple times, but I couldn’t even reach them by phone.
– In Abkhazia, fortunately, there are consistently operating and well-earning enterprises. Does any of them provide you with assistance?
In 2009, I wrote to companies like "A-Mobile" and "Aquafon," the Abkhazian Sea Shipping Company, the Sukhum Beer Factory, "Sukhumpribor," taxi services, "Abkhaztop," the Administrations of Sukhum and Gagra District, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Sukhum Central Market. As a result, the beer factory gave us 3,000 rubles (around $32), the Chamber of Commerce and Industry - 7,000 rubles (around $72), the head of the Sukhum Administration - 20,000 rubles (around $217), the Administration of the Gagra District - 50,000 rubles (around $543), and Sukhumpribor - 10,000 rubles (around $108). In total, we received 90,000 rubles (around $977). After that, the assistance ceased, and for 14 years, no one has even responded to our letters.
– Can you explain this?
I don’t understand why there is such an attitude towards us from the major business sector. Ultimately, of course, no one owes us anything. We try to survive independently and support each other. Moreover, under these conditions, we try to develop. In 2009, the Society's account had not a single penny; gradually, the situation improved, but we severely lack our own resources.
– We have been talking about the Society’s independent efforts and charity, but what about help from the state?
We haven’t received a single ruble from the state. The only thing that was done was the repair of the roofs of our buildings in 2009, facilitated by Alexander Ankvab.
Hope Dies Last
– You don't seem like a person who gives up easily. How do you see a way out of the situation?
I constantly think about it and consider options. Suppose we start producing something, but then we need to sell the goods in an already saturated market. If we could repair all our premises and rent them out, it would be effective. With rental income, we could offer support not just during holidays and for funerals, but more regularly. However, this option is also problematic. With our own funds, repairs would take years, if not decades. We could involve potential tenants in the repairs, but again, there’s a problem – these buildings are not our property. No one will invest in assets that are ambiguously owned and on whose balance they are. I already mentioned the carpentry workshop. Potentially, it's a good option, but the equipment is over 60 years old, and new equipment costs hundreds of thousands. In short, as the youth say, a total cringe, but we do not despair.
No Deceiving the Blind
– Since 2009, you've been the unchanging head of the Society, dealing with often insurmountable problems daily, putting in a lot of effort to help people. How do you manage to stay so spirited and radiate optimism?
I was elected chairman against my will; I wasn't even registered here then. But our people can be persuasive in such matters, so I had to, as they say, yield to the majority. I inherited a difficult situation, but I quickly realised that people are the most important. I listened to everyone and got to know them, spent a long time analysing who was sincere, whether their words matched their actions. Several checks were conducted, including financial ones. Many violations were uncovered, including falsifications, phantom employees, embezzlements with building materials, etc. Several employees had to be fired. As a result, we gradually built a transparent and understandable system, which allowed us to start genuinely helping people. Yes, the amounts are small, just a few thousand rubles per person, but everything is done honestly, and I sleep peacefully at night.
Another important point. I receive a Russian disability pension, and we have people who only get an Abkhaz pension and nothing more. I feel sorry for them; they are in need like little children. So far, I don't see anyone who could replace me and honestly manage the Society’s work. So, I keep going.
Ezabay Kapba's story is one of resilience and hope. Despite the many obstacles faced by the Society of the Blind of Abkhazia, their leader remains optimistic and driven to make a difference. This interview highlights the importance of support and understanding for people with disabilities, and the need for inclusive opportunities for all. If you are moved by their story and wish to offer support to this organisation, please feel free to contact us. Your contribution, big or small, can make a significant difference in the lives of those we serve.
This interview was published by ApsnyPress and is translated from Russian.