Meet the Lebanese woman who lost her sight when she was 7, and now empowers the blind to see

Meet the Lebanese woman who lost her sight when she was 7, and now empowers the blind to see
Meeting a person without seeing them is a changing experience. (Photo supplied)
Updated 20 May 2019

Meet the Lebanese woman who lost her sight when she was 7, and now empowers the blind to see

Meet the Lebanese woman who lost her sight when she was 7, and now empowers the blind to see
  • Lebanese-American Sara Minkara refuses to consider her blindness an obstacle
  • Through Empowerment Through Integration she works to empower youth with disabilities

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts: “I like to push boundaries,” Sara Minkara told me in the offices of her non-profit, Empowerment Through Integration (ETI), right across the street from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. From here, she works to make the visually impaired and disabled feel included in society.

“I’ve hiked and sled down a volcano in Nicaragua and biked through the jungle in Bali,” she added.

Now, all this sounds like a standard travel itinerary for daredevilish adventure groups, but not in this case. 

Minkara, a Muslim Lebanese-American, lost her sight at the age of 7 due to macular degeneration. However, she doesn’t let that stop her from doing what she loves to do.

“My mom never allowed us to stay home and say ‘I cannot do this because I can’t see’ … Never, we were never allowed to say that,” she said, referring to herself and her older sister, who is also blind.

Minkara hopes that ETI can help others to break the social constructs that limit people with disabilities and can give them the confidence to realize their full potential.

“I think the biggest obstacle that surrounds our disabilities is the social construct around us,” Minkara said.

She continued: “When you eliminate that stigma, to be honest, then dealing with your disability itself is not that big a thing. Realizing that these youth have been ingrained with this mindset that there’s something wrong with you — and believing there really is something wrong with you — is really harmful and it prevents you from tapping into your potential.” 

Established in 2011 when Minkara was just a sophomore in college, ETI — through a grant from the Clinton Foundation — organized a summer camp in Tripoli, in northern Lebanon, that sought to empower young people with and without disabilities. The camp was such a hit among families and children that Minkara knew this couldn’t be the end of it.

“That camp was so empowering for the youth with and without disabilities, both for the families and the community. I realized that there’s more to this than just that one summer camp,” she said.

“I realized this is my passion, for me from a moral spectral lens, I think God gives us riziq (good fortune) and wealth in different ways, and I know that he gave me the wealth of support and empowerment. I felt it was my duty to share that wealth and that’s why I started ETI to be able to bring that empowerment to other kids with disabilities,” she said. “I never thought in a million years that I would be starting a non-profit — my strength is math, and I’m an introvert and graduated with a math and economics undergrad.”




Sara Minkara

Minkara was close to opting to do a PhD rather than expanding her organization. However, her thesis adviser pushed her to pursue her passion.

“He was, like, ‘Sara, why in the world are you applying to these PhD programs? Go pursue your passion. Your eyes sparkle when you talk about this camp. Go do that’,” Minkara said.

“If he hadn’t pushed me and encouraged me, I probably wouldn’t have started it,” she said. “It’s a risky thing.”

One of the workshops that Minkara runs through ETI is the In the Dark experience. Participants are blindfolded before entering the room and are told that they cannot say their names, nationalities, jobs and educational backgrounds, which are the four things “that we attach our value to,” Minkara said.

“So, they go in, they don’t know who they’re sitting next to, they cannot see each other, they don’t know anything. For two hours, without mentioning these four things, we guide them through an experience of getting to know themselves much more in each other and the connection, the bond, the trust they build is beautiful.

“If you meet a person for the first time without seeing them, the majority — 85 percent — of the labels cannot be formed, which means the majority of these assumptions cannot be created. So you’re really forced to get to know that person for who they are and listen to them for who they are.”

Minkara explained that the workshop allows participants to reflect on the way they usually meet people through socially constructed norms and “isms,” which goes back the non-profit’s mission to disrupt judgmental narratives.

The In the Dark experience can be tailored to suit the event based on the audience or setting, be it an office team-building workshop or an after-school program.

Other programs offered by ETI include Life Skills, which train blind and visually impaired youth to use key tools and techniques to navigate the world; Parent and Family Workshops which support families and friends of Life Skills participants; and Social Project Programs, which enable blind and sighted youth to work side-by-side on community service projects.

ETI’s human-centric approach places participants at the center of the workshops, where the program’s framework equips and trains them with tools that allow them to create effective solutions and empower them.

The non-profit operates in regions in where youth with disabilities, including refugees, are marginalized due to social stigma. It offers these groups the chance to build the competence and confidence needed to prosper and grow within their communities and act as agents of change.

“Our overarching mission is disrupting the narrative surrounding disability, moving from a charity-based perspective to a value-based perspective that’s not human rights-value based. Because right now people say, ‘Oh now I guess I have to educate,’ ‘I have to employ,’ ‘I have to integrate,’ ” she said. “We want to get to a point where (they say) ‘I want to’, ‘I see the value of integrating people with disabilities,’ and that narrative needs to be addressed to society at large, communities, families and individuals with disabilities.”


Saudi-British artistic collaboration explores Saudi Arabia’s past, future

Saudi-British artistic collaboration explores Saudi Arabia’s past, future
Updated 25 February 2021

Saudi-British artistic collaboration explores Saudi Arabia’s past, future

Saudi-British artistic collaboration explores Saudi Arabia’s past, future
  • Young artists received mentorship from prominent Saudi creator Manal Al-Dowayan
  • They were participants in Connect ME program, which fosters UK-Gulf artistic exchange

LONDON: An upcoming artist from Saudi Arabia has revealed the results of his collaboration with a British counterpart, launching digital artwork that “seeks to recalibrate viewers’ perception of ‘the other’ culture.”

Riyadh-based Meshal Al-Obaidallah worked with artist Carolin Schnurrer to produce the work, called “FAREWELL ARABIA: A Bold New Vision,” as part of the Connect ME Digital Residency program run by the Arab British Centre.

The initiative pairs young artists from the Gulf with British counterparts to foster artistic collaboration, and to consider how digital tools can encourage connectivity across borders despite the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

As part of the program, the young artists received mentorship from prominent Saudi artist Manal Al-Dowayan.

The work by Al-Obaidallah and Schnurrer explores Saudi Arabia’s rapid development during the 20th century and how it changed society, as well as looking ahead at what the future might hold for the Kingdom.

“Through our exchange, we collected found footage, sound bites, quotes, symbols and other fragments,” said Al-Obaidallah.

“These re-appropriated fragments were processed, destroyed, accelerated, decelerated and rearranged,” he added, describing it as a “mishmash of fact and fiction.” 

Eilidh Kennedy McLean, British Council country director for Saud Arabia, congratulated Al-Obaidallah on representing the Kingdom in the residency, saying: “It is an incredible, interesting time for artists to explore different mediums of collaborations to create and innovate despite the physical restrictions during COVID.” 

Also selected to participate in the Connect ME program were Emirati artist Dina Khatib and British artist Ollie Cameron.

They collaborated to create a work that explores “how visualizing the unseen space between them could become a means for connection and exchange.”

All four artists and their mentor Al-Dowayan will host an online talk on March 3 to discuss the program and their creations in-depth.


Lebanese influencer Karen Wazen lands new fashion campaign

Lebanese influencer Karen Wazen lands new fashion campaign
Updated 25 February 2021

Lebanese influencer Karen Wazen lands new fashion campaign

Lebanese influencer Karen Wazen lands new fashion campaign

DUBAI: Lebanese blogger and entrepreneur Karen Wazen has landed herself a new fashion campaign, this time with Italian luxury label Prada.

The fashion house is unveiling its fall-winter 2021 womenswear collection on Thursday at 4 p.m. (Saudi time).

Wazen, who is an eyewear designer and has a brand bearing her name, shared images with her 5.5 million Instagram followers featuring statement pieces from Prada’s upcoming collection.

The Dubai-based fashion influencer wore a satin top and pants in purple, pairing the outfit with an off-white purse and black pointy-toed heels. Dangly black Prada earrings completed the look. 

Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons will have a conversation to discuss the new launch following the new collection’s release.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Prada (@prada)

Marc Jacobs, US model Hunter Schafer, film director Lee Daniels, DJ Richie Hawtin, and Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas will join the conversation virtually. The talk will be moderated by YouTube’s Derek Blasberg, who is a US journalist and author.

The collaboration between Prada and Simons was first announced last year.

The Italian has been the creative force behind one of the most successful luxury brands for 30 years, while Simons is considered to be one of the fashion world’s biggest talents. 

His future has been the subject of intense speculation since he left Calvin Klein in 2018. He was previously creative director at Jil Sander and Dior. He also has his own label.


Hend Sabri’s ‘Ayza Atgawez’ to return on Netflix after 10 years

Hend Sabri’s ‘Ayza Atgawez’ to return on Netflix after 10 years
Updated 25 February 2021

Hend Sabri’s ‘Ayza Atgawez’ to return on Netflix after 10 years

Hend Sabri’s ‘Ayza Atgawez’ to return on Netflix after 10 years

DUBAI: Egyptian-Tunisian actress Hend Sabri is set to release a new season of her 2010 comedy series “Ayza Atgawez” (“I Want to Get Married”) on the streaming service Netflix, she announced on Thursday.

The new show, directed by Egyptian filmmaker Hady El Bagory, will be called “Al Bahth Aan Ola” which translates to “Finding Ola.”

In the 2010 series, Sabri played the role of Ola, a young pharmacist from a middle-class family who hoped to get married before she turns 30.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by هند صبري (@hendsabri)

Sabri took to Instagram to reveal the news to her 2.9 million followers. “I am excited because I will meet Ola Abdel Sabour again after 10 years,” she said in a video she shot on set. “Do you remember her? You do for sure. You ask me a lot about her. I am trying to look for her in a new world. We will discover what she did after 10 years.”

“Just like you all changed after 10 years, she also changed. But, some things never change,” she added, revealing that veteran Egyptian actress Susan Badr, who played Ola’s mom, will also be in the show’s new season.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by هند صبري (@hendsabri)

The show will star Egyptian actors Mahmoud Ellithy and Nada Moussa, who appeared in the one-minute clip that Sabri shared.

Sabry has previously collaborated with Netflix on a campaign, “Because She Watched,” to curate an inspirational film collection on the platform.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by هند صبري (@hendsabri)

The 41-year-old actress, who has a degree in law, has made history by becoming the first Arab woman to serve as a jury member in the 2019 Venice Film Festival.

Just last month, she was named Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by هند صبري (@hendsabri)

Sabri, who is a UN goodwill ambassador for the World Food Programme, started acting in 1994 in Tunisia. She then moved to Egypt, where she got married and currently lives, to expand her outreach.

With a career that spans over two decades, she has proven to be one the Arab world’s most iconic actresses with a number of successful films and shows under her belt.


‘News of the World’ offers little that’s new

‘News of the World’ offers little that’s new
Updated 25 February 2021

‘News of the World’ offers little that’s new

‘News of the World’ offers little that’s new
  • Tom Hanks and Paul Greengrass reunite on sweet-but-shallow Western

AMSTERDAM: Tom Hanks as an ageing cowboy searching for his place in a world that is changing too rapidly for him? No, this isn’t “Toy Story 4.” Sadly. 

“News of the World” sees Hanks reunite with director Paul Greengrass — the combo behind 2013’s “Captain Phillips.” Here, Hanks plays another captain, Jefferson Kyle Kidd — a veteran of the Confederate army in the US Civil War who now makes a living traveling from town to town reading the news from the latest papers he can find to people who pay 10 cents apiece to hear it. While on the road, he encounters a young German girl by an overturned wagon. She had been kidnapped by Native Americans as an infant and raised as one of their own, but is now being returned to her only surviving relatives by a soldier who has died in their wagon crash. 

“News of the World” sees Tom Hanks reunite with director Paul Greengrass. (Supplied)

Kidd ends up, somewhat convolutedly (but essentially because he’s such a good guy), having to transport the girl, Johanna — who barely speaks German or English — to her aunt and uncle himself; a long, dangerous journey made even more dangerous by predators, both human and animal. As they travel, Kidd tries to connect with Johanna, who clearly identifies as Native American and has no desire for a ‘Western’ life. 

It’s hard to imagine anyone but Hanks in this role, since his name is now pop-culture shorthand for this type of world-weary, kind, level-headed character. Kidd is all of those things. Hanks plays him perfectly. 

Tom Hanks plays the role of a captain, Jefferson Kyle Kidd. (Supplied)

Though billed as a Western, this is no action movie. Instead, it’s a contemplation of a divided nation attempting to pull itself together, and of love and responsibility. Johanna’s actual relatives are far less invested in her welfare than Kidd (they’ve never met before and she is borderline-feral, after all). 

The success of the film rides on the chemistry between Helena Zengel as Johanna and Hanks as her guardian. I wasn’t entirely convinced — in comparison, to say, the similar couple in the Coen brothers’ 2010 take on “True Grit.”

“News of the World” is a sweet, downbeat-but-optimistic movie, and certainly not bad. But it is more notable, ultimately, for the films that it isn’t, rather than the film it is. 


Kurdish artist Hiwa K discusses highlights from his Dubai exhibition

Kurdish artist Hiwa K discusses highlights from his Dubai exhibition
Updated 25 February 2021

Kurdish artist Hiwa K discusses highlights from his Dubai exhibition

Kurdish artist Hiwa K discusses highlights from his Dubai exhibition

DUBAI: When the Kurdish artist Hiwa K was a child in Baghdad, his mother noticed how he would crawl to a small canal near their home and pick up random items. Even their neighbor recognized his peculiar behavior. “He told my mother, ‘I don’t know what this guy will be, but he is very interested — he’s too curious,’” Hiwa, now based in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah, tells Arab News. “ She always said that was the beginning of my artistic practice.”

That childlike sense of curiosity seems to have remained with him, as evidenced by his latest exhibition — “Do you remember what you are burning?” — at Dubai’s Jameel Arts Centre, his first in the region. Old TV screens, scraps of raw material, and experimental video installations ultimately act as a self-portrait, reflecting Hiwa’s personal experience of warfare and estrangement as a refugee during the 1990s. In a statement for the exhibition, he writes: “People often ask me, ‘Where are you based?’ ‘On my feet.’ ‘Where are your feet based?’ ‘My feet are never based.’”

The exhibition gathers work from across the past 13 years of his career. (Supplied)

The show also serves as a commentary on Iraq in recent decades — tossed from one political conflict to another, from the Iran-Iraq war to the rise of Daesh. 

The exhibition gathers work from across the past 13 years of his career, which he says has been touched by “beautiful times and difficulties.” 

He adds: “I’m in a different stage in my life now. We are living in a very crucial moment. Globally we are on the edge of extinction now and we have to be even more direct. It’s time.”  

Here, Hiwa walks us through a selection of works from the exhibition, which runs until July 24.  

‘Do you remember what you are burning?’ (2011-2017)

In 2011, after 60 days of peaceful protests, the Kurdish militia, who were supposed to be our brothers, started to shoot us and burned a stage used by activists. I made an announcement on Facebook and the network in Sulaymaniyah was really good, so people immediately shared it. I said we will gather in Azadi Square, where they burned the stage, and everyone should bring their favorite book and a magnifying glass — we are going to read and burn it at the same time. It was testing this border between the tongue and the heart. It’s very much a silent protest. There were 20 of us, but the militia started to participate with us by burning the books. I was burning a book and someone from the militia asked me, “Do you remember what you are burning?” Forgetting is very much a characteristic of the neo-liberal economy and fascism, because fascism is about destroying the past, not remembering, and just going to the future. 

‘My Father’s Color Periods’ (2014)

This is a form of silent protest. During my childhood, most TVs in the Kurdish area didn’t have color. Everyone would put colored cellophane on the screens. Because of a lack of technology, you had to be more innovative. It’s a very personal piece, because my father was a calligrapher and he was not only putting one or two colors on, like everyone was doing. He was performative, trying to play with it: If there was a nature scene, for example, he would put the blue sheet up and the green sheet down. Because this work is personal, it’s somehow very general. It’s not just about colors; it goes back to the idea of gaining power. Technology makes your life easier but also more meaningless, because it takes power from you. 

‘The Bell Project’ (2007-2015)

I met a guy called Nazhad, who was taking mines placed during the Iran-Iraq war from the borders. All the mines and weapons were going back to his foundry and he was melting them and making metal bricks. I was really interested in this guy because he’s an archive of many things: He knows which weapon was used where and from where it was imported. Indirectly, he tells you how many countries were involved in these wars and how our wars were the business of other countries. 

Throughout history, bells have been melted into weapons and cannons. When I started working, I didn’t have the idea of making the bell. My gallery back then asked if I would make something for a church in Lucca, Italy, and the first thing that came to my mind was a bell. I filmed the process of making the bell, which took three months. I saw on the Internet that Daesh was trying to destroy artifacts from Mosul and Syria, so I put the Babylonian figures on it as a reference from the museums. A screen is a very ephemeral thing — it comes and goes. If you put it on a bell, it has 1,000 years of guarantee from the foundry, which was a very interesting timeline.

‘One-Room Apartment’ (2008-2017)

The concept started in 2007. I was searching for mines and I saw a few houses, which looked quite lonely: One person, one bed. This model for our society is very strange and alienating. I realized that it could be the symptom of a new system of individualism being brought into Iraq. When I was young, I was always unhappy about us being collective and thinking we should be like the West. All the young people are trying to copy this Western model of living alone, having your own freedom. It’s a lonely work. It’s very much set apart from the exhibition space — just like how the apartment was not in the city but near the borders of Iran. 

‘View from Above’ (2017) & ‘Destruction in Common’ (2020)

I made “View from Above” for Documenta, which takes place in Kassel, Germany, every five years. Kassel was almost completely destroyed in World War II. I filmed a model of the city, which was made in 1955, and I paired that with “Destruction in Common,” which is a carpet modeled on a city in Iraq. Kassel has been built again and there’s a big weapons industry there, which has sent weapons to Iraq, Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries. With “Destruction in Common,” I’m reminding Kassel that it was in ruins once and now it’s taking part in the destruction of other cities. It’s about power, making decisions. The people making decisions are detached from the reality in which people live, but they have the power. 

‘Qatees’ (2009)

I was walking the streets of Sulaymaniyah looking for someone who could make antennas. In the Iran-Iraq war, people would build homemade antennas because on the official channels Saddam Hussein was claiming victory and Iran was claiming its own victory. We had to connect to these illegal channels, which gave you the lost half of the story. People would also search for news of their relatives on Iranian TV. I met Abas and his story was very interesting. He stayed home for almost two years. At the time, you had to hide from the neighbors, because they’d think you had deserted from the army and they’d call the Security Directorate. Abas was talking about the frustration he felt, trying to make communication, to reach something, somewhere. He would use anything he could from the house in order to get another channel from somewhere else. I spent six days with Abas. We went to the outskirts of the city where people had thrown away metal and wood. We took materials and built antennas — shown in the work — until one worked and we could get Iranian channels.