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The following article is taken from the spring 2008 issue of Life Glow and describes the adversities confronted and overcome by a blind teacher in Macedonia, a country that was once part of the former Yugoslavia.

Nichole Kraft

"It all started with my dreams," she says.

When 30-year-old Adrijana Prokopenko dreams, she dreams with a depth and breadth that might intimidate others. But Adrijana isn't one to be intimidated--not when her dreams are a reflection of her passion for personal independence.

On February 2, 1979, Adrijana greeted the world three months earlier than her parents had expected. Her early arrival meant that Adrijana would be required to spend two and a half months in the hospital in. The state-sponsored hospital in Skopje, the capital city of the Republic of Macedonia and Adrijana's hometown, wasn't the most ideal setting for an infant born three months premature. Adrijana lived in an incubator, which she says was "pretty old and made some time after the Second World War." Also, there was only one nurse for every 15 babies.

In her out-of-date incubator and with less care than she required, Adrijana was exposed to high levels of oxygen. The result was oxygen toxicity. Two and a half months later Adrijana emerged from the hospital healthy, but with no vision.

Adrijana's parents, although saddened for their daughter, were proactive. "I am sure they went through the grieving period," she says, "but at the same time, they did all they could to learn more about blindness and get some professional help."

Professional help came in the form of Dimitar Vlahov, a school for blind and visually impaired children. Adrijana remembers that her mother and father got to know one of the school's teachers. The teacher showed them how to care for, teach, and interact with Adrijana. Though they were grateful for the help, they knew their daughter would need more. "Unfortunately," recounts Adrijana, "they didn't get much support. The state didn't have any other programs to help parents of blind children. Therefore, I never had the chance to go to a regular kindergarten or attend any kind of preschool program."

The world Adrijana and her parents had found themselves thrust into was a challenging one. "If one is blind and lives in this country, he or she mainly relies on family and friends for almost everything--from getting around, to getting help with schoolwork, to shopping. We don't have any blind professionals who are knowledgeable in the fields of orientation and mobility and there are not any guide dog training schools," Adrijana says.

Adrijana's chances of an independent life didn't look good. But, she was a bright and inquisitive student, and she didn't care. Throughout most of her elementary and secondary education, there were no materials in Braille. This meant extra effort on Adrijana's part. "I had to transcribe my own textbooks into Braille with the help of my parents," Adrijana remembers. Adrijana had begun to carve out personal independence, despite the obstacles.

It was during this time of hard work that Adrijana's dreaming became more focused. By age 15, she had fallen in love with the English language and aspired to become an English teacher.

A year after graduating from high school, Adrijana was awarded a scholarship from Overbrook School for the Blind in Philadelphia. Always eager to experience life fully, Adrijana was attracted to Overbrook's International Program. "I could imagine myself in all kinds of situations," she says, "doing all kinds of things I desired to do." But besides being thrilled about traveling overseas and learning a new culture, Adrijana realized the practical side of studying at Overbrook. "I also knew it was very necessary for me to acquire all the skills they taught, because I knew [learning them] would help me throughout university and in the future."

Adrijana attended Overbrook for nine months. She studied leadership, English, computer skills, and orientation and mobility. But that wasn't all. Adrijana was also exposed to American culture. She and her fellow Overbrook students participated in choirs, went skiing, and toured historical American sights such as the Liberty Bell and Capitol Hill. "There was never a dull moment in my life while at Overbrook," Adrijana says.

Adrijana was granted another scholarship--this time to the Eastern Mediterranean University of North Cyprus. Starting in 1999 as an English language teaching major, Adrijana recounts that she was a new experience for the university. "I was the first blind student they had there, and although they lacked most of the resources [I needed], such as materials in alternative formats, readers, and orientation and mobility professionals, they accepted me as no different from the rest of the students."

Adrijana was back to brailing most of her academic materials, but this was the least of her challenges. While most people were friendly and welcoming, life in the dormitory "was not the best." Most of Adrijana's fellow dorm residents only spoke Turkish "and their attitudes towards blind people were not [as accepting as] the ones most university students would have....I constantly faced problems and often had to keep some amount of food, water and other basic necessities in well hidden places, in case all else that was in the fridge or kitchen was mysteriously gone."

Adrijana's determination and desire for independence had gotten her this far, and she was focused on making her time at the university worth it. "Despite all odds," she says, "I tried to enjoy my life there, with a few of my good friends."

Adrijana graduated with her degree in 2003, and found herself drawn homeward to Macedonia. "I was sure that many blind people could achieve much more, if they were given the proper training and support. I just had a strong desire to help people and make their life a bit easier." And so Adrijana returned to where her dreams for independence began--the city of Skopje.

"Very difficult" are the words Adrijana uses when describing her job search in Macedonia. Despite being a competent woman holding an English teaching degree, Adrijana's blindness kept her on the fringes of the job market, even though in Macedonia the demand for English teachers is high. "I was able to find hundreds of jobs," she remembers, "but as soon as I had to make that call or submit that application and tell them I was blind, that was the end of it." Most traditional schools in Macedonia "could never imagine a blind person working as a teacher and were not eager to listen and learn how that can be possible."

About three years passed. Adrijana's dream of teaching and helping students like herself seemed far off, at best. In 2006, however, Adrijana stumbled upon an ad placed in a newspaper by her old school, Dimitar Vlahov. The ad described the ideal job applicant to be an English teacher skilled in Braille. The position fit Adrijana perfectly. Her dream had finally materialized.

Another three years have passed, and Adrijana now teaches children aged five to 17 in 19 different grade levels. Adrijana is now realizing her dream by doing what she loves--teaching children who are blind and visually impaired. "I am glad that some of my dreams became reality," she says. "[I'm] doing what I have always wanted."

But Adrijana is quick to admit that her dream of independence wasn't easy to attain and isn't easy to maintain. But having a clear picture of the goal helped. "I knew what I wanted to be and do," she says.

Adrijana insists that being interdependent is actually helpful for one's independence. "When I feel I need help, I usually turn to family, friends, colleagues, and even blindness magazines and online groups. I am a people person and when things become difficult, I try to talk to, write to, read and listen to people I admire a lot," Adrijana says. Her personal independence is strengthened through others' advice, support, and outlook, which is something she can give back to people around her who may be facing similar challenges.When someone seeks her counsel, Adrijana says, "I try to spend long periods of time talking to them and helping them learn things. I also do not forget to tell them to follow their dreams and desires and stay brave." It's a way for her to give back, a manifestation of her gratefulness to "all the people who have helped me get where I am today."

When 30-year-old Adrijana Prokopenko dreams, she dreams with a depth and breadth that might intimidate others. Or inspire them. "I face all kinds of obstacles, challenges, and drawbacks at times," she admits. However, that doesn't mean one should stop dreaming or stop aspiring to personal independence. After all, she says, "It all started with my dreams."

adrijana may be reached by writing her e-mail at

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