The annual Polar Express event was a little more magical for a special group of children this year.
The hot chocolate was steaming, the Christmas carols were sung enthusiastically and it was impossible not to notice the beaming smiles near the back of the Polar Express train ride on Saturday (Dec. 8).
For the first time ever, 17 legally blind children and their families, wearing their finest pajamas, took part in the local holiday event. For Samson Nabbimba and his six-year-old son Praise Nabbimba, it was an afternoon to remember.
“This is the first time we've ever done anything like this,” he said, noting that his son has been blind since birth. “He really enjoyed it, he liked the singing and the hot chocolate. He's never been on a mechanized train like this so he was very excited.”
Samson heard about the event from representatives from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) and he said the CNIB has been a huge help to his family since Praise's birth.
“It's very difficult because having someone with Praise's needs can take up a lot of time,” he said. “There are lots of appointments and training he needs to go to so you can only work a certain amount. But he's a very smart kid and very intelligent if you give him the opportunity.”
Samson came to Canada from Uganda 12 years ago and said his homeland isn't the best place for those with disabilities.
"I'm very grateful to God and the system here in Canada,” he said. “In Uganda the blinds are just kicked to the curb so I can't complain with the way things are here.”
Michelle Trovato and her son Matteo Trovato made the trek from Coquitlam but they were somewhat familiar with the West Coast Heritage Railway Park. The duo traveled to Squamish earlier this year to take in the popular Day Out with Thomas event. Michelle said her son loves trains and this was another opportunity for him to get up close and personal with them.
“The CNIB sent out an email to us and we loved Thomas so we thought this would be a fun thing for us to do,” she said. “Events like this are incredibly important to my son and those like him. Everything was catered to kids who are blind so it made things very easy for us.”
Trovato said there are challenges for herself and her son but they can be overcome.
“The world is organized around people who can see,” she said. “When you don't see everything life can be hard but it just means we have to try our best to make things easier for them.”
Sarah Hooge, a child and youth specialist with the CNIB in Vancouver, said it was a fun outing for the group.
“I think they really enjoyed it,” she said. “It was the first time we'd done something like this and it was definitely a different experience for everyone.”
Hooge said the idea for the event came from Squamish resident Dave Thomson. Thomson, who now works for CNIB, was the former general manager of the West Coast Heritage Railway Park and helped arrange the event.
“The tickets and our lunches were all donated, the bus company gave us a great deal and it turned out to be a really nice event for families,” she said.
She said many of the kids are fascinated by trains and getting out to an event like this is good for the children and the parents.
“It's very important to get the kids as many different opportunities as possible,” she said. “It gives them a chance to do this as a group too, which makes things a lot easier.”
Hooge said she's not sure if this event will become an annual get together for families involved with the CNIB but said it may if the demand is as strong as this year.
For more information on the CNIB, visit www.cnib.ca.