“The Longest Journey Begins with the First Step”

Cyril Purnwasy

Cyril Purnwasy grew up in Guyana, on the north coast of South America. As a child, he was always an avid reader and a good student, and he was thankful for his sharp eyesight, which made it easy for him to read for hours—even by moonlight.

In his late teens, while Cyril was getting ready to take the official exams at his high school, he started to notice problems with his vision. He had trouble reading, and even getting around was difficult. “It got so bad that I couldn’t see anything at all,” Cyril says. So, he went to see a doctor and learned that he had glaucoma.

After several weeks of treatment, Cyril noticed some improvement in his eyesight. But when he went back to school, he found that reading was still difficult, and it was surprisingly hard to concentrate. He took his exams anyway, and a lifetime of great study habits paid off. “I didn’t do that bad,” Cyril says. The experience taught him that focusing on the right activities could help him find success.

In 2019, Cyril moved to the United States and found a new home in Schenectady, New York. About a year after he moved, “My vision started deteriorating more and more,” Cyril says. He found help through the Northeastern Association for the Blind at Albany who provided him with training so he could learn to use a white cane. They also referred Cyril to Hadley, where he could learn even more—including braille.

At first, Cyril didn’t think he was ready for braille. With his low vision, he has relied for a long time on large print labels that he makes with a bold marker. He wondered if “eventually,” he would need braille to label things around his house—but he thought he wouldn’t need it for a while. Then a friend who’s blind encouraged him to jump in. “He was the one who actually told me, ‘Come on, start learning braille,’” Cyril says. So, he did. And once again, focusing on the right activities helped lead him to success.

In fact, with his persistence and attention, Cyril was among the first to complete Hadley’s new workshops, Braille for Everyday Use and Contracted Braille. He’s been named a Hadley HERO for the outstanding number of workshops he’s taken.

Cyril’s approach has been to practice, practice, practice. And once he finished all the available workshops, he started from the beginning again. “I practice almost every day,” he says—and he knows that his ongoing work is the key to success. “If you do not use the braille, then eventually you will forget it,” Cyril says, “so you have to keep working on it.”

As Cyril works through the lessons for the second time, he also uses a slate and stylus to write out each of the example sentences—which has boosted his confidence and his skills. “Of course, there are mistakes,” he says. But he knows the time he spends practicing will help him get better and better. And he’s already starting to use braille around the house, starting with a list of phone numbers.

Cyril’s advice to others is the same thing he tells himself: Stay focused and keep working. “You have to really believe in yourself. The longest journey begins with the first step,” he says. “You’re the one in charge.”

Cyril tells us that he wants to thank Hadley, and he believes that, “Without Hadley, I couldn’t have done this.”

In return, we’d like to thank Cyril for sharing his story—and for helping us all remember the importance of the very first step.