South Africa, a well-known country in Africa, has a prominent figure in its history—Nelson Mandela. He was not only a symbol of peace but also the first black president of South Africa. However, behind his incredible journey, there was a mentor, a guide, and a friend who played a pivotal role in his life—Anne Sullivan.
Introduction to Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela, an iconic figure in South Africa’s history, was an author, political activist, and lecturer. He achieved numerous accolades during his lifetime, including honorary university degrees, induction into the Women’s Hall of Fame, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Lions Humanitarian Award.
Additionally, a film based on his life story received two Academy Awards. Helen Keller authored several books, including “The World I Live In” and “The Story of My Life,” which she wrote in both standard script and Braille. She also founded the American Foundation for the Blind and the American Foundation for The Overseas Blind.
The Role of Anne Sullivan
Helen Keller’s journey as a disability advocate was not a solitary one. A dedicated companion, mentor, and friend who opened up the world to her was Anne Sullivan, born as Johanna Mansfield Sullivan.
Anne Sullivan had vision when she was born but tragically lost her sight at the age of five due to trachoma, a disease that severely affected both of her eyes. Despite undergoing two surgeries, Anne’s vision remained limited, and she had low vision.
Anne Sullivan’s Challenging Early Life
Anne Sullivan’s life story is as captivating as Helen Keller’s. An Irish family that immigrated to America during the European famine raised her as the eldest of four siblings in a poor family. Tragedy struck when Anne was just eight years old. Her mother passed away from tuberculosis, and two years later, her father disappeared.
Social services in Tucksberry, Massachusetts, adopted Anne Sullivan and her younger brother, and one of her younger sisters went missing. After extensive searching, Anne discovered that her younger sister had worked as an entertainer and had endured violence. The family was eventually reunited.
Overcoming Adversity through Education
Anne Sullivan’s education journey was far from straightforward. She attended the Perkins School for the Blind but only completed her high school equivalent education at the age of 28. Despite these challenges, Anne’s life experiences uniquely prepared her for the monumental task of teaching Helen Keller.
Anne Sullivan Meets Helen Keller
Anne Sullivan’s path crossed with that of Helen Keller when she began teaching her at the age of seven. Helen Keller hailed from Alabama and was raised in a conservative family, which initially posed difficulties for Anne in imparting lessons. Anne’s goal was to encourage Helen Keller to learn outside the confines of her home and attend school.
Innovative Teaching Methods
To teach Helen Keller effectively, Anne Sullivan employed innovative methods, including the Haptic method, which involved understanding shapes through touch and sound vibrations on the throat. This method proved successful, and within just five months, Helen Keller had memorized over 500 words. Anne also taught Helen Keller to read and write using Braille.
Anne Sullivan’s Impact and Legacy
Anne Sullivan was not just a teacher but also a friend to Helen Keller. For 49 years, she provided guidance and served as a sounding board for Helen Keller. Their friendship endured until Anne Sullivan passed away peacefully at the age of 70 in 1936.
Anne Sullivan’s role as Helen Keller’s teacher, mentor, and friend was instrumental in shaping Helen’s life and advocacy for disability rights and education. Anne’s own life experiences, challenges, and determination equipped her to teach Helen Keller effectively.
Together, they demonstrated the power of education and unwavering friendship in overcoming adversity. Anne Sullivan’s legacy continues to inspire and remind us of the importance of inclusive education and support for individuals with disabilities.