Sabriye was born in Cologne, West Germany. She lost her sight slowly as a child due to retinal disease, and her parents took her to many places so she would store up many visual memories, before becoming totally blind by the age of 12. She studied Central Asian Studies at Bonn University. In addition to Mongolian and modern Chinese, she studied modern and classical Tibetan in combination with Sociology and Philosophy.
Braille for the Tibetan language
As no blind student had ever before ventured to enroll in these kinds of studies, Sabriye could not fall back on the experience of previous students, so she developed her own methods of studying her course of study. By 1992 Sabriye had developed Tibetan Braille, which later became the official reading and writing system for the blind in Tibet. Tibetan Braille is based on international braille, modified to accommodate the Tibetan script. For example, Tibetan ka, kha, ga, nga are written with the standard Braille letters for k, c, g and lowered g. It was submitted for examination to a Tibetan scholar, who found it to be readily understandable, simple, and easy to learn.
A school for the blind
In 1997, Sabriye travelled to Tibet alone in order to assess the situation of the blind there. Returning in 1998, she founded the Centre for the Blind in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, to educate blind people. Before that, blind children had not been able to attend school in Tibet. The school started with five children, with Sabriye initially teaching the children herself, as well as serving as coordinator and advisor. She then began training native Tibetans as teachers, selecting and supervising all staff-members of the Centre.
The project's progress was not without difficulties. Most blind children were hidden away from the world by their family members, who were reluctant to send their children to be educated. Local Tibetans would at times cheat Sabriye, taking advantage of her blindness. European foundations she turned to did not offer Sabriye help, believing that a woman who herself was blind could not be successful with such a project. Funds promised to Sabriye by a German association for the blind were never sent. Nevertheless. Sabriye persisted and was able eventually to turn over the running of the Centre to one of her former students who trained as a teacher. She found one person who believed in her and began working with her: Paul Kronenberg who had been working for the Red Cross in Shigatse.
Braille Without Borders (BWB)
In 1998 Paul joined Sabriye in establishing the Project for the Blind, Tibet. In September, 2002, the name was changed to Braille Without Borders, BWB. In addition to the school in Lhasa BWB runs a vocational training centre for blind adults with a farm and cheese factory near Shigatse.
In 2009, Sabriye Tenberken and her partner Paul Kronenberg also began kanthari international (name intentionally spelled with all letters in lower case) in a village near Thiruvananthapuram, India, They also established an International School for Development and Project Planning near Trivandrum, Kerala, India. The school focuses on discovering and developing the hidden talents of persons socially neglected, especially because of disabilities, empowering them to be innovators and leaders.
Honours and awards
- 2000-03-08 elected Woman of the Year by members of the International Women's Club, Frankfurt, Germany (Elisabeth Norgall Award)
- 2000-08 received the Zilveren Jandaia (together with Paul Kronenberg), a Dutch award for people who improve conditions in developing countries
- 2000-12-08 received the Charity Bambi award of German Media for the documentary film Mit anderen Augen (English: With Other Eyes)
- 2002-09-01, received the Albert Schweitzer Award of the Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Foundation in Basel, Switzerland, together with Paul Kronenberg, presented by the 80-year-old daughter of Albert Schweitzer
- 2002-09 received Nuremberg Teddy for Humanity together with Paul Kronenberg
- 2003-10-07 was knighted alongside Paul Kronenberg in the Order of Oranje-Nassau in the name of the Queen of The Netherlands
- 2004-02-26 received a Christopher award for her book My Path Leads to Tibet
- 2004-10-26 received the Time magazine European HERO 2004 award
- 2004-11-10 received the Time magazine Asia's HERO 2004 award
- 2005 nominated for Nobel Peace Prize
- 2005-01-29 chosen Global Leader for Tomorrow by the World Economy Forum
- 2005-03-02 Leila Hadley Luce Award for Courage of the World Wings Quest Trust Women of Discovery Awards
- 2005-10-05 awarded the Bundesverdienstkreuz, highest German order from the German president Dr. Horst Köhler
- 2005-12 awarded the National Fundraising Award in Berlin, Germany, together with Paul Kronenberg, for fundraising methods emphasizing the strengths and motivation of blind people rather than appealing to donors' pity
- 2006-10 Sabriye and Braille Without Borders were honored as Laureates of the Mother Teresa Award
- 2006-10 National Friendship Award of the People's Republic of China
- 2008-10 the National Braille Press in Boston handed Sabriye the “Hands On Award” for her book My Path Leads to Tibet.
- 2008-10 Sabriye was awarded with the “Goldene Bild der Frau” Award in Germany. The award was given by Germany's largest women’s magazine Bild der Frau.
- 2008-12 out of the hands of Geraldine Chaplin, Sabriye Tenberken received the Life Award in Austria.
- 2008-12 Sabriye Tenberken was chosen as one of 15 most influential overseas experts over the past 30 years in China.
- 2009-04 Sabriye Tenberken received the "Marburger Leuchtfeuer" from the Humanistische Union(HU) and the city of Marburg
- 2009-11 Tianjin TV, China Right here recognized Sabriye Tenberken with the "You bring Charm to China Award"
- 2010-02 Sabriye Tenberken was chosen as one of "Those who Moved China in 2009" ("感动中国 2009 年年度人物评选", Gandong Zhongguo) by CCTV.
- 2011-01 The Chinese Connection chose Sabriye Tenberken as one of the - "Top Ten International Friends of China"
- 2011-05 Sabriye Tenberken received the “INCITE Excellence Social Entrepreneurship award 2011” Dr Abdul Kalam, former President of India is one of the board members of INCITE)
- 2012-03 Sabriye Tenberken and her partner Paul Kronenberg received the "Bornheimer" Award from The Europa School in Bornheim (Germany)
Appearances in films/talk shows
- 2000 Documentary film titled Mit anderen Augen (German for "With Other Eyes") about the Braille Without Borders project. (This won Sabriye the 2000 Charity Bambi Award.)
- 2005-08-15 talk show for CCTV 9 in Beijing, China
- 2005-10-17 guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show titled 8 Women Oprah Wants You to Know, segment Phenomenal Females: Sabriye Tenberken's Journey
- 2006 release of the documentary film Blindsight about the climbing project with Erik Weihenmayer and teens from the School for the Blind/Lhasa in the Himalaya
- Braille Without Borders
- Braille Without Borders' founders
- Bio page on the Climbing Blind website
- Wings Trust "Women of Discovery" Awards
- Bio on the PeaceWomen Across the Globe website - 1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize
- Sabriye Tenberken - Blind, Yet A Visionary - 2004 TIMEasia Magazine: Asia's Heroes - 20 under 40
- Alchemist: The Visionary - TIME Europe | Heroes 2004
- Article about Braille Without Borders on China Tibet Information Center website
- Phenomenal Woman: Sabriye Tenberken an article from O, The Oprah Magazine