Arts & Culture

Visually impaired dancers find passion at Brazil ballet school

Photo Credits: Cia Ballet De Cegos

“I learn everyday to close the eyes of the sight, which are extremely full of preconception, and to open the eyes of the heart.”

 

Such are the words of Fernanda Bianchini, the founder of Fernanda Bianchini Ballet Company. The dance school is the only one in Brazil, and one of the few in the world, to cater to visually impaired dancers. Since its inception in 1995, the school has been offering free classes that are mainly funded through donations.

 

Bianchini says that the school's main goal is for students to improve their posture, balance, spatial sense and self-esteem, in addition to breaking barriers and prejudices about people with handicaps.

 

Without the aid of sight, the process of learning dance is very different for the visually impaired, and comes with a much steeper learning curve.

 

“The method is all through touch and body perception. The students touch my body, feel the movement and afterwards try to reproduce it in their own bodies,” Bianchini told AJ+.

 

Geysa Pereira, an instructor at the school and herself visually impaired, acknowledges the difficulties of dancing as a visually impaired person.

 

 “Since the beginning, my biggest difficulty is to turn. It still is today.” - Geysa Pereira

 

Nevertheless, the dancers at Fernanda Bianchini’s school have proven that their passions can – and do – triumph over these hardships. They stage regular performances, and in 2012, four dancers were selected to dance with the Royal Ballet in London during the closing ceremony of the London Paralympics in 2012.


“It was a wonderful and unforgettable experience for us, an opportunity that I could never imagine,” said Marina Guimarães, one of the dancers who performed in the ceremony.

Former refugee boats give cruisers a tour of Amsterdam through the eyes of migrants

Photo Credits: UNHCR

Once upon a time, ‘Meneer Vrijdag’ and ‘Klein Boot’ were boats that were previously used to smuggle asylum seekers across the Mediterranean in search for a better life.

Now, the vessels are traversing much calmer waters: they’ve been taken in by Lampedusa Cruises, a tour company in Amsterdam that invites residents and tourists alike to take in the city’s history, much of which has been shaped by refugees and migrants.

The skippers, from countries including Eritrea, Libya and Syria, all have one thing in common – they themselves were refugees who came to Amsterdam on a boat not unlike the vessel they now sit at the helm of.

“Our guides tell you the hidden history of Amsterdam through the eyes of its immigrants and outsiders, including their personal migration story,” the company’s website reads.

The company takes its name from the island of Lampedusa, which is a symbol of Europe’s migrant crisis due to it being a popular destination for refugees sailing from Africa. What the cruises hope to do is to provide an alternative, less traditional insight into Amsterdam that isn’t necessarily what first comes to mind when one thinks about the city.

“The beauty of this project is that while Amsterdam is so shiny, we dive into some issues that aren’t so clean,” said Sahand, a tour guide. “Most tour companies talk about the Golden Age of the Netherlands and point out the old buildings. We talk about the immigrants who built them.”

Nine-year-old runs library for children in slums of India

Photo Credits:   Pratham Books

Photo Credits: Pratham Books

Muskaan Ahirwar just might be the youngest librarian in the world: this nine-year-old girl, who lives in a slum in Bhopal, runs a library for children just outside her house.

When the state’s education center realized that children lacked interest in and access to books outside of school, they decided to do something to promote reading in the slum area. The education center held a quiz to create interest among the children, and Muskaan’s high score and enthusiasm impressed all the members of the center. They asked her for ideas on how they could educate the children living in the slum, and from then on, Muskaan’s library idea was born.

"I love doing this. Other children in slum area take books and then return other day. Some stay back to read here with me and ask questions where they don't understand," Muskaan told Times of India.

The library now has over 700 books donated from elsewhere in India and overseas, and has become a popular hangout spot for the children.

“Once I started the library, children who used to roam around have found new interest in reading and come regularly,” Muskaan told AJ+.

Children also play trivia games and have discussions about the books they’ve read at the library.

“Whoever has the drive to learn, they should start their own library and start learning, and study like us and get ahead in life,” Muskaan said.

 

Photo Credits: Pratham Books

Cinema for the visually impaired gives moviegoers new sights

Inside a small cinema in Jakarta, Indonesia, muffled back-and-forth conversation can be heard as movie watchers talk quietly amongst each other.

 

No – they aren’t being rude. This is a typical night at Bioskop Bisik, a “whisper cinema” designated to help visually impaired people enjoy a movie with the help of volunteers describing the scene.

 

“I want people to accept that people with disabilities, especially people with visual impairments are part of society,” the mastermind behind the cinema, Cici Suciati, told AJ+.

 

Screenings are held in the second week of every month at an alternative cafe space that deems itself as a “culinary cinema”. Volunteers are recruited through social media, many of whom help out regularly.

 

“This is a new and fun way of volunteering. I can give something to others in a way that’s never been done before and I’m able to see differently from their perspective,” Dina, a volunteer, told The Jakarta Post.

 

While listening to the audio can give visually impaired moviegoers a good idea of what’s going on, it often is not enough to set the provide all the information needed to understand a scene. An out-of-context scream, for example, can be interpreted as one of joy or frustration.

 

“This helps me a lot in terms of widening my horizons as a visually impaired person who likes movies very much,” said Siswanto of the initiative.

 

Photo Credits: The Jakarta Post

Flowers plant seeds in the lives of Australia’s migrant women

“For a a lot of women, flowers play an important role in their lives,” says Sophea Chea. “What I want them to feel is happiness and joy. I want to use flowers as a tool.”

Angkor Flowers and Crafts is a social enterprise based in Cabramatta, Sydney. Founded by Chea in 2014, the business employs women from migrant backgrounds who have low levels of education and have been raised with the belief that their sole purpose is to be a stay-at-home housewife.

Originally from Cambodia, Chea has seen many of her female family members being made to finish their education as soon as possible and the stigma associated with women promoting professional careers.

Many women who migrate to Australia are of similar backgrounds, and therefore have little work opportunities when they arrive. Chea hopes to help these women out: by teaching them how to create flower arrangements and liaise with clients, their confidence, language skills and employment prospects when they eventually want to find work elsewhere are increased.

When Angkor Flowers & Crafts began, it only worked with migrants from Southeast Asian countries such as Cambodia and Thailand, but today women from as far as Peru, Iran and Chad are benefiting from their employment with the social enterprise.

The universal appeal of flowers and its ability to be a “positive emotion inducer”, according to research, has made a difference in the lives of these women whose needs are often marginalized by public policy.

Photo Credits to Angkor Flowers & Crafts  

Street Books library offers the homeless a different narrative

 

A bicycle pulls up on the streets of Portland, Oregon, a heavy cargo box in tow. Inside the box is a selection of novels: sci-fi, biographies and everything in between. Patrons walk up to the bike, browsing the titles with curiosity and checking one or two out. There’s no due date, they’re told, and no fines either.

This is the work of Laura Moulton’s project Street Books, a bicycle-powered mobile library for the homeless and those living on the margins. In the summer, Moulton and her team take to the city, making designated stops and bringing literature to a community whose circumstances forbid them from doing so themselves.

Moulton is an artist and a writing professor who firmly believes in the power of reading to help one escape a different reality, a relief that is much needed for those experiencing a difficult time in their lives.

“I think people come to the library for a variety of reasons, and part of it, I think, is being able to lose yourself in a book for the time,” said Moulton.

But without proper identification or a home address to give, the homeless are unable to obtain library cards at public libraries, making borrowing from them not an option. And this is where Street Books steps in.

 


Street Book was originally created as Moulton’s short-term project in the summer of 2011. At the outset, Moulton was skeptical about whether it would be well-received.

“It’s a bit of an audacious proposal to go out and say, yes, I know you’ve been sleeping on a piece of cardboard for three nights, but here’s a paperback book,” Moulton recalled thinking at the time.

But when asked by a patron in the final days of the initiative where Street Books would be next week, Moulton realized she had created something that actually had demand among the homeless community. 

Image:   Street Books

Five years later, Street Books has amassed a loyal group of patrons-turned-regular-readers. Some are former bookworms, excited to rekindle an old love, while some are just realizing a newfound passion.

“The power of a project like Street Books is that when the assumption is that these people outside are not intelligent, not capable of a range of feelings somehow, we show a different narrative,” said Moulton.


A regular patron of Street Book when it began, Ben Hodgson read about three books a week and probably over 50 just that summer.

“You’re sitting around with nothing to do but stare off into space, and it just makes it a lot more livable to have something to do as a leisure-time activity, said Hodgson.

Hodgson was homeless at the time and living on the streets of Portland. After three years outside, he was finally shortlisted for veterans housing. One day, he ran into Moulton, who was delivering books. Remembering his regular patronage and love of literature, Moulton offered him a job sorting through their book collection. Since then, Hodgson has been working as a Street Books’ librarian and inventory specialist. Moulton calls him an “invaluable asset” to the team.

Besides Moulton and Hodgson, Street Books consists a team of other street librarians, all of them avid readers and firm believes that literature should be accessible to all. They don’t just fulfill their librarian duties of handling checkouts and returns, but also encourage patrons to make requests for titles they don’t see. They take the effort to remember the names of their patrons, striking up conversation about thoughts on their most recent read and what books they’ll be digging into next.


“What I realized from Street Books is how similar we all are and how much we connect around reading and ideas,” said Diana Rempe, a Street Books librarian.


The homeless face enough discrimination in society as it is, and while Street Books isn’t offering them an income or a roof over their heads, it hopes its sharing of literature can relieve at least a little bit of that stigma. The project is especially valued in Portland, a city where literary culture runs deep. In fact, Portland’s county library has one of the highest circulation among public libraries in America.

Heather, a patron of Street Books, values books “like gold”.

“Homeless people are smart. We deserve this. We deserve to be able to read,” said Heather.

For more on Street Books and how to support this mobile library, check out their site!

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Image Credits: Street Books

Art-through-pods fights homelessness with art in Oak Park, California

Rapid gentrification in the neighborhood of Oak Park, California, has exacerbated the homelessness problem in the area, prompting residents Aimee Phelps and Kevin Greenberg to take action with their creative project, Art-through-Pods.

Concerned at the growing number of people sleeping outside on the conrete, Phelps, who is a local artist, decided to take action. With some tubing, plastic cardboard, wheels and a matress pad, all wrapped up in swirls and a striking shade of green, the Art-through-Pods project began.

“The idea is that we can build these pods so people aren’t sleeping on the sidewalk and sleeping on the street, but we also cover them with art,” said Greenberg. “So instead of just leaving them with shopping carts and blue tarps in the alley, you’re looking at this.”

Greenberg, a welder, modified Aimee’s initial pod designs, changing its shape to be small enough to fit on a sidewalk, in a parking spot and down a bike lane, but big enough for two adults. He also added welded steel, plywood and switched out bicycle wheels for wheelchair parts for a sturdier structure.

Each pod has a customized design: one is emblazoned with a replica of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”, and another is lavender with delicate orchid patterns.

The pair’s project has gained much attention in the local community. Phelps receives letters on her porch from people requesting for pods, and people come up to her asking how they can get on the list.

While these creative pods don’t provide a means for permanent housing, they are offering the homeless a place to store their belongings in the day and a shelter to sleep in at night. They’re also showing them that their plights aren’t going unheard in the community.

"I can't even explain how happy it makes us to go out and give these pods away to people who need it and deserve it and shouldn't be sleeping in alcoves and forgotten," said Phelps.

Make-up artist helps cancer patients feel beautiful again

22-year-old makeup artist Norman Freeman knows how hard it is for cancer patients, having lost all their hair to treatment, to feel beautiful – and what he’s doing is making that just a little bit easier.

Calling hospital wards his studio, Freeman visits cancer patients and offers to do their makeup, giving them some much needed confidence at a difficult time in their life that is fraught with low spirits about their appearance.

Freeman himself understands what it’s like for patients to lose all their hair. At age 5, he was diagnosed with alopecia, an autoimmune disease causing chronic hair loss. Over the years, he lost all of his hair, including his eyebrows and eyelashes.

“I was teased. People didn’t know if I had cancer or what… they thought I had cancer, and they still teased me!” said Freeman of his past.

A passion discoered from watching Youtube tutorials soon turned into a career artist, later prompting him to launch a self-funded project to offer free services to cancer patients.

The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native focuses his efforts on the East Coast, visiting hospitals in New York and Philadelphia, but hopes to expand his reach using the donations from those who support his work.

“I know how untouchable makeup can make me feel,” said Freeman. “I want people to say, ‘I’m sick, and it’s awful, but I can still feel beautiful.’”

Humans of New York ensure no one dines alone this Christmas

 

For the fourth year in a row, photojournalist project Humans of New York is doing its part to make sure everybody has a good Christmas, even if they may not have friends or family to celebrate with.

“Every holiday season we try to connect people in New York City who would like to share a holiday meal. Why? Because nothing is worse than being alone on Christmas or Hanukkah,” a post on Humans of New York’s Instagram reads.

The tradition, titled HONY for the Holidays, invites anyone with interest to send an email to HONY as a guest or a host; guests might have circumstances that force them to be alone this holiday season, and hosts might have extra room at the dinner table to feed a couple more mouths.

To facilitate good conversation over a hearty meal, HONY asks that guests and hosts share a little bit about themselves so that they can be aptly paired up. Practical concerns such as location and dietary restrictions are also factored in, and everyone is screened before matches are made.

Founder of Humans of New York Brandon Stanton understands the frustration of being on your own when everybody else in the world seems to be reuniting with loved ones. In an Instagram post two years ago when the initiative was being held for the second time, he recounted spending his first Christmas Eve in New York at a 24-hour diner, with no money to fly home.

Between colorful portraits of everyday New Yorkers and articulating their stories to millions of followers, Humans of New York continues to inspire with this wonderful project that seeks to promote solace and the spirit of giving back in a fast-paced city.

Free app ‘Refugeye’ helps refugees break down language barriers and focus on getting the help they need

When refugees arrive in a host country, the language barrier make it difficult for them to articulate their circumstances to NGOs and social service groups. The process of getting the help they need is thus long and hard, coupled with the frustration that they aren’t being understood.

With this in mind, Design & Human created Refugeye, an app to facilitate better communication and understanding between refugees and the people of their host country.

The free app offers over 150 icons, each one unique and simple. General icons include the logo for UNHCR (United Nations High Commisioner for Refugees), a passport and a house. More specific ones, for example a figure holding out his wrists to another indicates arrest and a figure carrying a bindle to represents homelessness, can help refugees get their stories across precisely.

Users can also use the pen tool to draw on the icons themselves, their screen essentially becoming a canvas for them to illustrate what they would otherwise have a hard time trying to get across. Illustrations can be saved as images to be used in future.

Refugeye is indeed a simple and creative solution for refugees; with the app, they can focus on getting the help they need so they can settle down in their host country as quickly as possible instead of worrying about being misunderstood.

Boss #likeagirl

- Photo Credit: @mokrin_coworking

What does it mean to be a #girlintech and rock at it, #likeagirl?

Michelle Haupt, the Operations Engineer at NASA once said “One thing I always tell young girls: Never let anybody tell you you can’t do it. Growing up, they’d look at me like, Really...Even when I was having teachers tell me, just take a break from math, you can take this class next year. I said, ‘No, I’m going to take it now.’ I kept pushing for it.”

We at Givo are proud to say that we actively seek to highlight incredible woman like Michelle who are changing their industries and redefining what it means to be #likeagirl. Not only do we believe that girls should be equally influential in ground-breaking discoveries but that young girls ought to be reminded that they have the ability and power to shape the world the way they envision it. We are as much responsible for the current state of the world as we are for the future we create.

Check out @girlswhocode if this speaks to you! It’s an awesome NGO dedicated to eliminating the gender gap in the tech industry. As founder Reshma Saujani put it best, “our girls create technology that makes the world a better place”. For all aspiring female techies out there, never let anyone take away your shine - we’re all rooting for you.

Image credits to @mokrin_coworking, a space for digital nomads.

#girlsintech #genderequality #girlswhocode