10-year-old Calgary girl competes at international braille challenge: ‘A great opportunity’

It’s the trip of a lifetime for a 10-year-old Calgary girl, who is off to Los Angeles to compete at the 2019 North American Braille Challenge.

“I (felt) really proud of myself when I heard that I was a finalist,” Habiba Hafez said.

The Grade 4 student has been blind since birth.

She’s one of only two Canadian students among the 50 finalists at the event, which is organized each year by the L.A.-based Braille Institute of America.

Hafez earned a spot by doing well in a regional competition earlier in 2019.

“It’s a great opportunity!” Hafez said. “It’s one of the few challenges where blind people can compete against other blind people.”

Students from Grade 1 through Grade 12 take part in several braille competitions, including spelling, proofreading and comprehension.

The braille challenge goes Friday, June 21 and Saturday, June 22 at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Hafez has been preparing for the event on her braille typewriter, practicing at home with her parents and with her classmates at University Elementary School.

“It’s really cool to be the only blind person in my school,” Hafez said. “I like it, because they can help me when I’m in trouble.”

Hafez gets strong marks in all of her subjects and eagerly joins the students in activities around the school, such as skipping in the gym.

“I really like turning the rope and being able to be part of it,” Hafez said. “And it’s not that hard.”

Her parents say the supportive atmosphere at the school is a big part of their daughter’s success.

“She makes us so proud of her, in many ways,” Hafez’s mother, Amal Hafez, said.

Her classmates are also proud, confident she’ll do well at the braille challenge.

“She’s just really smart,” Grade 4 student Zhouan Moradi said.

Hafez especially enjoys learning about art and science.

“My big dream is to work at NASA,” she said. “We all have a goal, no matter what problems we have. We can all achieve our goals, set new ones and do more things that we know we can do.”

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