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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.

Acrobat instructor brings people with disabilities to new heights

IG: @pitublazquez

IG: @pitublazquez

At Pitu Blazquez’s acrobatics school in Argentina, students are hanging from trapezes, walking on balance beams and cooling down with a stretch. But the school is a little different from what you might expect: it offers free classes for people with disabilities.

“These people are doing something incredible, which is extremely difficult, being five meters high and giving their soul and their art,” Blazquez told AJ+.

People who live with disabilities are a marginalized community in Argentina; most do not have medical insurance and only one in 10 are employed.

“Nothing is built with disabled people in mind. They don’t think [about it],” one of Blasquez’s students said.

Through offering people with disabilities classes free of charge, Blazquez hopes to give them a chance to engage in an activity they otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to. Instead of specifically setting aside sessions for people with disabilities, he integrates them with other students in class to help everyone understand the challenges these people face.

“It teaches my other students to work with people who can’t walk, people who can’t see, but can do a lot of things,” said Blasquez.


“What I see inside them is a fight, is a courage that is an example for everyone. It’s very rewarding.”

 

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

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.

Turkeys not Tickets

Officers in Fort Worth, Texas, hand out turkeys instead of tickets in time for the holiday season!

Traffic officers in the town of Fort Worth, Texas, are changing things up a little: they’re handing out turkeys instead of tickets just in time for the holiday season. “Even though we do enforce traffic law and we do have some unpleasant decisions to make, we still are about the people,” said Officer Anthony Colter. Colter made five traffic stops on Wednesday, each time giving the driver a turkey to take home. 

Five teams of officers have been handing out Thanksgiving turkeys across the city to drivers, a welcome surprise for drivers who thought they were going to be pulled over and slapped with a hefty fine. The Thanksgiving turkeys were left over from a community project in which officers were bringing food to local residents.

 The act of kindness is spreading some much needed holiday cheer during the post-election season in America, where tensions are running high and citizens are feeling unheard.

“I’m pleased to see it, because there’s so much hate in this country right now,” one motorist said. “To see brotherly love, it’s very, very inspiring.”

Photo (and turkey) credits to Fort Worth Police Department