Empowerment

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.”

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

Second Chances

Janet here owns her own floristry business and sells a beautiful array of flowers. Little would anyone guess that, as a side fact, Janet is an ex-offender.

Janet’s flower shop stemmed from an interest which then later blossomed into a career, mind the puns, with the help of “Startup”. Based in the UK, the charity Startup offers what very few public systems do - a belief that prisoners, too, have great potential and can thrive as entrepreneurs in their own right. The work that Startup had done have significantly reduced recidivism by having ex-offenders turn towards entrepreneurialism as opposed to back towards a criminal system.

In an interview with the BBC, Juliet Hope, the founder of Startup, says “They [the prisoners] have faced that, come out, and want to turn their lives around.”  Juliet believes everyone deserves a second chance - we couldn’t agree more.

This concept isn’t limited to the UK, or Startup’s work. The LEAP (Ladies Empowerment Action Program) (Instagram handle: @leapforladies) in the US also works for a similar cause. Entrepreneurial skills are shared with prisoners, especially women, to encourage them to pursue their dreams - not just with the right tools but the right support.

We should never judge anyone based only on their past or background, as Juliet says, everyone deserves a chance and has potential to achieve. More on their work on their site

Image Credits: BBC

NYC personal trainer empowers the disabled through strength

Tom Clement goes to the gym twice a week for an hour each time. He works primarily on upper body strength, emerging from the gym stronger with every session.

But Clement is not your average gym goer. To begin with, he’s well into his sixties; he’s also been in a wheelchair for most of his life since falling off a roof and severing his spinal cord. For the past 15 years, Clement has been a regular at Ned Norton’s Warriors on Wheels gym, a training facility catered to the most marginalized of communities in the world of fitness: people living with disabilities.

Named one of the CNN Top Heroes in 2014, Norton, 58, has been running non-profit organization Warriors on Wheels for over 20 years. Formerly a competitive power lifter, a three-time finisher of the NYC Marathon and a fitness trainer with 35 years of professional experience, Norton has found passion in bringing what he loves most ­– fitness – to the lives of those who otherwise never get to experience beating a personal best.

“I never worry about what they can’t do,” said Norton. “I worry about what they can do, and make them as independent and capable as possible.”

 

It all started when Norton was managing a gym and training athletes back in 1988. A football player he was training expressed concern for a friend who had been left paraplegic after an accident. He asked Norton if he could train him at the gym and help him recover not just physically, but also psychologically. Tailoring a program for his friend with the help of his doctor, Norton began training him and saw rapid progress in him within six months.

Now, Norton trains more than 120 people every week. His clients are affected by a wide range of disabilities, including autism, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and vision impairment. The gym is located in Albany, New York, on the fourth floor of a public housing project high rise. The Albany Housing Authority donates the space to him so he doesn’t pay rent, and Norton’s side jobs, support from private donors as well as regularly held fundraising events help keep the project going. Some of the money goes towards the state’s transport authority, which provides STAR, or Special Transportation at Request, to arrange buses that bring people with disabilities to and from the Warriors on Wheels gym.

Norton charges a rate of $10 for 10 visits, but many of his clients subsist on welfare and disability payments, making the fee difficult to afford. In fact, just over 30 percent are able to pay. But Norton is happy to waive this fee, believing that everyone should have access to his training regardless of financial ability.

“If they can pay, fine, but I don’t really keep track of those who don’t,” Norton said. “Most of the people I work with are on very limited incomes.”

 

Clients at Warriors on Wheels use adaptive equipment that has been specially designed by Norton and his team to facilitate improvements in strength and conditioning. Traditional machines like the shoulder press and bench press have been modified, and the seats are cut off from multi-stations, which includes a pec deck, lat pull down cable and preacher curl, so that those in wheelchairs can use them too.

Jamal Burgess is autistic and has been coming to the Warriors on Wheels gym for over 15 years.

“The repetitive motion is good for him,” Norton said of his swift punches as his laced up boxing gloves hit the heavy bag.

“I love it here. I like to work out with Ned,” said Burgess.

Working out at Warriors on Wheels have led clients to see more than just an improvement in their physical health. Norton says many have gone on to find employment, drive again and pursue their interests without allowing their disabilities to get in the way.

 

Clement thanks Norton for helping him live a full life and increasing his ability to maintain the stamina of everyday work.

"The physical benefits are obvious. People have an easier time getting in and out of wheelchairs or opening heavy doors,” said Norton. “The psychological benefits are even more significant. There's a feeling of accomplishment, of self-confidence. The program makes people more independent."

Photos: CNN