"I wanted my independence, I don't want to depend on anyone to make breakfast for me."
Vishad Paryag, 18, was beaming with pride when he graduated from a 12-week-long cooking class designed for the blind and visually impaired. Paryag lost his vision when he was eight, and has since fought to be self-sufficient.
"Independence and self-esteem go together, because with my independence I know I can achieve a lot of things. That's what this class really taught me."
The south branch of the T&T Blind Welfare Association held a graduation ceremony at the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) in St Augustine for seven blind students, who learned to cook nutritious meals.
Deonarine Ragoo, manager of the association's south branch, said many blind people across the country lived alone, and therefore needed to learn how to prepare meals for themselves.
"The benefit of the programme is to give blind people a sense of power and independence."
He asked graduates to recognise the philosophies being taught beyond the cooking class.
"This programme was strategically calculated to empower and promote self-reliance, independence, dignity and self-esteem."
Ragoo said there was a thrust to move away from the stigma of dependency and develop a society that was more integrated. "Blind and visually impaired persons can perform."
Padmini Seecharan, welfare officer at the association, added that the "new chefs" would now be able to save some money, and not have to buy food every day.
"We hope that by the end of the year, your bank books will be looking good with the savings."
In conjunction with the Caribbean Association of Home Economists, and a free teaching space offered by the YWCA, tutor chef Maureen Taylor-Ryan taught the first, all-male class to make pelau, pizza, stewed chicken, fresh salad, sandwiches and desserts. She was very proud of her graduating class, saying they were impressive in the kitchen.
"It's a marvel how they can use their hands to learn the equipment."
This was the association's sixth graduating class, and so far 26 students have passed through the course.
Five students were present for their graduation ceremony and received certificates of achievement: Mosi Andrews, Andre Nicholas, Bobby Seebaran, David La Caille and Paryag. Each got a chance to speak at the ceremony, and they all expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to become more independent. Paryag joked that he was now properly prepared to get married, should he meet the right girl.
La Caille, 53, said the feeling of not needing anyone was indescribable.
"Now I'm able to do things on my own, I don't have to depend on someone to get something to eat. I'm sure I'm not going to starve anymore."
La Caille, who said his favourite dish was shepherd's pie, joked that the hardest part about cooking was baking, as he usually burned his hand. "I still love cooking."
Taylor-Ryan said baking was the hardest aspect of cooking to teach and for the students to learn, as people who are blind will have to adjust to their stoves, and learn the baking knobs that control temperature. When asked how they identified spices in the kitchen, she said that's where their other senses kicked in.
"They smell and feel the ingredients. They can identify the shapes and smells and even tastes."
A potluck-style lunch followed the ceremony, as each student had cooked a dish and brought it to share with everyone.