Education

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.

Korean taekwondo masters teach refugee children compassion and discipline

Children at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan are learning the art of Taekwondo, thanks to a team of passionate Korean trainers who are teaching the sport as a means of instilling discipline and self-respect in kids who have faced trauma in their lifetime.

Charles Lee, who has lived in Jordan for over 10 years working as an acupuncturist, believes in the power of taekwondo in fostering the development of the refugee children, many of whom do not attend school or have any sort of mentor to guide them.

“I want to teach them to have more sportsmanship and to change how they think. I want them to be peaceful and to help their neighbors and communities,” -Lee, the founder of Zaatari Taekwondo Academy, told the Times of Israel.

The taekwondo program took off with the support of UN relief agencies. Lee also trained adult refugees, many of them sports coaches, so that they could run classes themselves and reach more children through the program.

According to Lee, the child refugees are often prone to violence, having grown up around it majority of their lives. Their favorite “game” to play is throwing stones at each other.

From the taekwondo classes, the trainers are seeing remarkable growth in the children.

“It has changed the character of the boys. They rely on themselves now, and the girls have stronger personalities,” - Mohammad Rashid, a physical education teacher, told AJ+.

“Taekwondo is what I like the most here,” said a Syrian girl. “Because I can defend myself, get to learn many things and care about my friends. I really like training a lot.”

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

Trees, not fees: School in India encourages parents to plant tree saplings instead of paying tuition

A primary school in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh is making education more inclusive while raising awareness for environmental concern: it’s asking parents not to pay tuition, but to plant trees instead. For more on #TreesNotFees check out our blog, 

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The initiative was set up by local professionals and business owners in response to the rising unaffordability of education. Little of the Indian government’s budget is allocated to education, leaving parents responsible for forking out high fees. As a result, many children cannot afford to go to school, and the consequences are evident: an education report in 2014 found that nearly 20% of children in grade two cannot recognize the numbers between one and nine.

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While not a means to an end, this school’s initiative is opening its classroom doors to children who otherwise would not have access to education, therefore giving them a chance at a brighter future and raising the country’s literacy rate.

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So far, the school has received an overwhelming response, and 700 saplings have been planted across the village over the last year.

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At the same time, parents being encouraged to plant trees is also educating the next generation on the importance of environmental care. This is especially needed in India, where air pollution is becoming a worsening problem.

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It is hoped that this school’s initiative will inspire others to follow suit to promote heightened accessibility of education for all and awareness of the country’s environmental issues.

Back on My Feet helps the homeless move forward, one step at a time

What he likes best about running? Finishing.

“The best part is when we’re all done and you feel that rush. You feel nice and relaxed. It does something to your body when you finish a run like that,” said Maurice. “It’s like medication, my favorite part is when I get my medicine.”

Maurice is a member at the Philadelphia chapter of non-profit organization Back On My Feet (BoMF). Founded in 2007 by Anne Mahlum, who started a running club for men at a shelter near her home, BoMF aims to empower those who are homeless through the power of running.

Across 12 cities in the U.S. including Chicago, New York City and its newest addition, San Francisco, members commit to 5:30 early morning runs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Some have families and some are working on their high school equivalent diploma, but they’ve all got one thing in common: the desire to achieve new goals, one step at a time.

BoMF believes that running offers powerful lessons for life, teaching us that we have to run miles one through nine to get to 10. Recognizing that homelessness isolates individuals from the norms of everyday life and leaves them distanced from the people around them, the early morning runs with others affected by homelessness and volunteers who believe in the cause give members support and a sense of community.

 

Running gets members active and more conscious about their health, though the ultimate aim of BoMF is much more than that. Members with 90% attendance in their first month with BoMF, showing commitment to the program, move into its second phase: Next Steps. From then on, members are provided access to educational support, employment opportunities and housing resources, giving them the help they need to restart their lives.

In particular, BoMF’s employment program helps many of its members find work. Gaps in employment and a lack of critical workforce training are just some of the barriers that make it difficult for the homeless to find long-term, sustainable jobs. To make up for this, BoMF partners with companies across the country to provide training in areas including customer service, financial literacy and Microsoft Office. Members can also work to get qualifications such as food handling and forklift operator certifications.

Established organizations including Marriott Hotels, Macy’s department store and CVS pharmacy partner with BoMF, provide employment opportunities to members when qualified. BoMF continually invites business owners seeking hardworking and committed employees to contact them for potential partnership. With a regular job and a stable income, members find independence and new meaning in their lives.

Mark, also a member of the Philadelphia chapter, took part in the programs offered by BoMF, among them a forklift certification, Bank of America financial courses, AT&T technology training and an Accenture workshop in resume building and mock interviewing.

“I took advantage of all the classes because they all benefit me. I wanted everything that I could get out of Back on My Feet, that’s why I apply myself. I’m motivated and I’m trying to achieve my goals and what I want to do in my life right now, so I took advantage of the program and it’s working for me,” Mark explains.

 

BoMF recruits members at homeless and residential facilities around the country. Many of its members are recovering from drug and alcohol addictions, some have spent time in jail, and they are in general at a low point in their lives. The discipline it takes to stick to an early morning regime three times a week encourages members to believe that the goals they set for themselves are within reach. Many find passion in the sport, doing training on their own and signing up for runs in their community.

Thanks to BoMF, Donna managed to kick a 28-year addiction of cocaine. The first time Donna joined a run, she thought she was too sick and old to do it. Members and volunteers recognized her struggle and motivated her to keep going. Her father’s passing turned into a hard battle against turning to drugs again, but she was determined not to let her new friends down. Donna pressed on, showing up at all her runs and doing her best. Her newfound confidence inspired her to set a goal to complete a 13.1-mile run, and she did it.

 

“That was the beginning of my life. I finally found a job working for Kirkbride Rehab Center, where I am very happy. This job keeps me grounded. It reminds me everyday where I came from and helps me not to go back.”

 

“I’m doing everything in life that I always wanted to do,” said Donna. 

Image Credits: Back on My Feet and Back on My Feet Philadelphia's Facebook Page

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

Of Meditation and Mindful Mondays

Happy Mindful Monday! A school Baltimore is listening to the science, and replacing detention with meditation. And the results you may ask? Well, they’re incredible.

The @holisticlifefoundation is an NGO committed to nurturing the wellness of children and adults in underserved communities and they’re taking these practices into school such as the Robert W. Coleman Elementary School in Baltimore to change mindsets and behavior in quiet, yet nonetheless big, ways. Kids are encouraged to sit in an untraditional “detention” room where they are encouraged to practice breathing exercises, meditation, and also talk through their experience.

In the August 2016 issue of Oprah Magazine, Holistic Life Foundation co-founder Andres Gonzalez said: “We’ve had parents tell us, ‘I came home the other day stressed out, and my daughter said, “Hey, Mom, you need to sit down. I need to teach you how to breathe.” Amazing, eh?

P.S.We love how mindfulness shaking things up by slowing things down. Intrigued by the power of mindfulness in your own life and want to try a taste? The app Headspace is making waves with 3 million users in over 150 countries. Our Givo team loves them!

This photo is credited to the incredible@holisticlifefoundation. Like what they do? Check them out! Like what you’re reading? Follow Givo link in bio for more stories like these.