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.”


GCC artists explore Ramadan during COVID-19

GCC artists explore Ramadan during COVID-19
Updated 28 min 59 sec ago

GCC artists explore Ramadan during COVID-19

GCC artists explore Ramadan during COVID-19
  • Khaleeji Art Museum’s latest installation showcases work from six emerging Gulf artists

BENGALURU: In Omani artist Mahmood Al-Zadjali’s latest artwork “More Precious Than Gold,” he photographs a woman eating a samboosa. Viewers may overlook the mundane act of eating and choose instead to focus on the aesthetic of the woman being photographed.

“During Ramadan, food turns into an obsession. Refraining from it during the day turns it into a desire,” writes Al-Zadjali on his Instagram account. He goes on to explain that, since people rarely make traditional Ramadan fare like luqaimat and samboosa through the rest of the year, come the holy month these delicacies are regarded as “more precious than gold.”

Bahraini artist Essa Hujeiry combines photography and digital work. (Supplied)

Al-Zadjali’s tongue-in-cheek photograph was part of last year’s online art exhibition “Ramadan in Quarantine,” hosted by the Khaleeji Art Museum (KAM), the region’s first digital art museum dedicated to showcasing the work of emerging artists in the region.

Since its launch on International Museum Day last year, KAM has held three online group exhibitions — “Khaleejis In The Time of Corona,” “Ramadan in Quarantine,” and “Art for Change” — and hosted two solo digital shows.

KAM’s founders, Emirati sisters Manar and Sharifah Al-Hinai, are also the team behind Sekka Magazine, an online arts and culture magazine launched in 2017, aimed at regional youth.
“Through Sekka, we get to meet a lot of emerging artists from the region,” Sharifah tells Arab News. “The art world is difficult to tap into — even more so when you are an emerging artist. The artists we worked with told us that the biggest challenge they face is that they cannot find spaces that will exhibit their work. So Manar and I had a conversation about this and we thought, ‘Why not start a digital art initiative?’ During a pandemic, digital is a great way to reach as many people as possible.”

This artwork is by Faisal Alkherji. (Supplied)

After several conversations, the duo settled on the idea of a digital museum dedicated to artists from the Arab Gulf states. “As far as we knew, it was something that didn’t exist,” says Manar. “We are very proud to be the first digital museum that provides this platform.” The sisters are currently in talks with various organizations in the UAE to host physical exhibitions in the future.

Their first exhibition, “Khaleejis In The Time of Corona,” received a positive response. “With lockdowns all over the world and the situation still new, people were interested in seeing how others were coping with COVID-19,” Manar says. The online gallery hit over 10,000 views.

Their latest installation — “Ramadan amid COVID-19,” which began April 12 — sees seven artworks from six emerging regional artists displayed on the façade of the 36-story Intercontinental Hotel in Dubai Festival City (DFC). The show runs until April 26 with four ‘screenings’ every evening.

Ishaq Madan’s photograph features a gloved hand holding prayer beads. (Supplied) 

The works include Bahraini photographer Ishaq Madan’s “Ramadan 1441.” His photograph features a gloved hand holding prayer beads. The idea came to Madan during the height of the pandemic last year. “Ramadan usually witnesses triple the worshippers, but as the world shifted away from normalcy, the connection, for some, (was) difficult to find,” he explains. “As mosques closed their gates to worshippers, a new spiritual battle began — of finding connection with the heavens above. As some may struggle, it is important we strengthen our spiritual connections.”

Madan created a painting-like effect for his image by combining natural light techniques with unusual perspectives — portraying a subtle visual story through characters captured in the frame.

Omani artist Mays Almoosawi’s “Ramadan, the blessed month of peace and goodwill” is a digitally sketched illustration of an Arab woman reclining on a crescent moon. (Supplied)

Omani artist Mays Almoosawi’s “Ramadan, the blessed month of peace and goodwill” is a digitally sketched illustration of an Arab woman reclining on a crescent moon — a longstanding symbol of Ramadan. Almoosawi includes further symbolism such as a coffee cup, and a traditional Arab kaftan.

“The illustration speaks of the COVID-19 situation in Ramadan,” she says. “Most of us (usually) spend the holy month gathering with family and friends. But this year, we are patiently waiting for life to get back to the way it was.”

Almoosawi’s work often features female figures in various shapes and forms. It represents the society that she grew up in, she says. “As an Arab girl, I was always surrounded by women. Hearing their stories and their insecurities had a big impact on me.”

In Omani artist Mahmood Al-Zadjali’s latest artwork “More Precious Than Gold,” he photographs a woman eating a samboosa. (Supplied)

Bahraini artist Essa Hujeiry combines photography and digital work. His artwork features a gloved, glittering hand pouring coffee out of a sparkling pot into a cup held by another’s hand. “(Coffee), in the Arab tradition, unifies people and brings them together,” Hujeiry says. “It is a constant in our lives and also a cultural symbol that embodies the idea of hospitality, unity, and safety in families during the holy month of Ramadan.”

Hujeiry has always been inspired by the cosmos, space, and illusion, he explains. His work is reflective of this, with several elements of glitter and spatial effects interspersed with cultural symbols. The rest of this series, he says, shows how we can be unified as a society even though we are facing a global pandemic that isolates us.

COVID-19 may have changed the way people celebrate Ramadan, but Hujeiry hopes that it won’t change the meaning behind the celebration. “We will still celebrate it with our loved ones, but keeping safety precautions in mind,” he says.


J-Rod are done: Jennifer Lopez, Alex Rodriguez have split

J-Rod are done: Jennifer Lopez, Alex Rodriguez have split
Updated 15 April 2021

J-Rod are done: Jennifer Lopez, Alex Rodriguez have split

J-Rod are done: Jennifer Lopez, Alex Rodriguez have split
  • Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez told the ‘Today’ show, in a joint statement, that they are calling off their two-year engagement
  • The couple was given the nickname ‘J-Rod’ three years ago after they landed on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine

LOS ANGELES: J-Lo and A-Rod are no longer J-Rod — officially.
Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez told the “Today” show Thursday in a joint statement that they are calling off their two-year engagement.
“We have realized we are better as friends and look forward to remaining so. We will continue to work together and support each other on our shared businesses and projects,” it said.
“We wish the best for each other and one another’s children. Out of respect for them, the only other comment we have to say is thank you to everyone who has sent kind words and support.”
The couple started dating in early 2017. They issued a statement in March that disputed reports they were breaking up.
The couple was given the nickname “J-Rod” three years ago after they landed on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine.


Saudi Arabia’s Princess Lamia pens love letter to creativity for Vogue Arabia on World Art Day 

Saudi Arabia’s Princess Lamia pens love letter to creativity for Vogue Arabia on World Art Day 
Updated 15 April 2021

Saudi Arabia’s Princess Lamia pens love letter to creativity for Vogue Arabia on World Art Day 

Saudi Arabia’s Princess Lamia pens love letter to creativity for Vogue Arabia on World Art Day 

DUBAI: In honor of World Art Day — celebrated on April 15 — Saudi Arabia’s Princess Lamia bint Majed Al-Saud shared her view on how art and creativity have “the power to shape our future; whether social, cultural, or economic” in an article for Vogue Arabia, especially in light of a global pandemic that has brought the world to a griding halt over the past year. 

“While the past year has brought with it an array of challenges, creatives across the world have found inspiration in the most difficult times,” she added. 

Indeed, artists across the world have garnered inspiration from lockdown and social distancing measures — Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, also known as Ithra, recently launched a digital showcase titled “COVID-19 Exhibit” that showcases just that. 

In the article penned by Princess Lamia, she declared that “art is central, not peripheral, to social change,” echoing the view that creativity has the power to effect change at all levels of society. 

“Art, in all of its forms, enhances cultural understanding while addressing social issues, increasing economic opportunities, and contributing to a more tolerant, prosperous world,” she said. “Today, on the occasion of World Art Day, we celebrate art as a veritable catalyst for social action, one that continues to facilitate local action and broader social change.”

She shared her views as Saudi Arabia’s art scene continues to grow, with the successful participation of Saudi galleries at March’s Art Dubai 2021 and a slew of local art fairs and initiatives by the Misk Art Foundation and Ithra, including the ongoing Year of Arabic Calligraphy. 

The princess also discussed the goals of Alwaleed Philanthropies — a charitable organization, chaired by Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Al-Saud, which collaborates with a range of philanthropic, governmental and educational institutions to combat poverty, empower women and youth, develop communities, provide disaster relief and create cultural understanding through education.

Princess Lamia said: “We understand the important role that the creative industries play in meeting the sustainable development agenda…We believe that art inspires feeling and emotion while providing a window through which people can explore different perspectives.”

“Art, in all of its forms, enhances cultural understanding while addressing social issues, increasing economic opportunities, and contributing to a more tolerant, prosperous world,” she said. “Today, on the occasion of World Art Day, we celebrate art as a veritable catalyst for social action, one that continues to facilitate local action and broader social change.”

She penned the article as Saudi Arabia’s art scene continues to grow with the successful participation of Saudi galleries at Art Dubai 2021 and a slew of local art fairs and initiatives by the Misk Art Foundation.  


World Art Day: How creativity can add a little color to your child’s life – and help development

World Art Day: How creativity can add a little color to your child’s life – and help development
Updated 15 April 2021

World Art Day: How creativity can add a little color to your child’s life – and help development

World Art Day: How creativity can add a little color to your child’s life – and help development
  • Some experts believe that art can enhance a child’s skill sets and add color to their development
  • Practicing art at home can both keep children busy and help to build more meaningful connections with parents

DUBAI: Children enter this world as blank slates, which is what makes parenting both exciting and daunting – and to mark World Art Day on April 15 we look at the importance of helping your child appreciate the arts.

It can be hard to figure out what to teach your child, and ensuring they explore, appreciate and connect with art – in all its forms – can end up taking a backseat.

However, some experts believe that art — from drawing to dancing to visiting galleries — can enhance a child’s skill sets and add color to their development.

(Shutterstock)

Jessica Rosslee, a clinical psychologist at Dubai’s Thrive, said artistic expression should be part of all children’s upbringing, as it is a universal language.

“Creativity doesn’t have any set requirements, it doesn’t need a specific language, skill or any qualification, it ultimately meets the child where they are at,” she said.

Rosslee said it is vital to incorporate art in children’s learning experience as it has a positive impact on their emotional, social and cognitive development.

“Art serves as a creative outlet for children’s emotions, so in essence art helps children to regulate their emotions.”

(Shutterstock)

When kids practice art, they are also engaging in conversations with their peers and adults, which helps hone their social skills, Rosslee said.

But art also helps kids’ brains develop better.

“Research mentions that neural connections are being made at a rapid rate during the brain’s early years. So activities such as drawing, painting... these wire the brain for successful learning, so ultimately the brain gets the opportunity of developing and getting strengthened,” Rosslee said.

The benefits of incorporating art into your child’s life extends beyond practice, as looking at and examining art can also have a great impact on development.

(Shutterstock)

“It exposes them to a rich and educational environment, it serves as an opportunity to explore the child’s curiosities, children learn a whole new vocabulary when they enter the world of art, they build their cultural awareness, they learn to observe, describe and analyze and interpret the art that’s in front of them, they are utilizing critical thinking skills,” Rosslee said.

As the pandemic continues and we are still confined by social distancing rules, practicing art at home can both keep children busy and help to build more meaningful connections with parents.

For that reason, KidzLoveArt in Dubai will soon launch art boxes for children, which are filled with all the required materials and equipment to work at home.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Kidz Love Art (@kidzloveart)

We spoke to the founder Denise Schmitz about the inspiration behind creating a children’s chapter of her adult-focused company WeLoveArt.

“I really believe, like Picasso, that we are all born as artists, and it is our responsibility as adults to positively nurture that creative spark,” she said.

Schmitz believes that art can help to instil confidence in children, but it is the parents’ responsibility to make that work.

“When you teach children with positivity and encouragement, they will feel safe, confident and proud of every work they create,” she said.

Schmitz said parents can encourage their children by showing admiration for their work and putting it up on display.

Nausheen Shamsher, an independent PR consultant and the mother of 12-year-old Amatullah, said enrolling her daughter with a private art tutor was “the best decision ever.”

“It helped her to refine her work, as well as focus and channel her energies to think out of the box. It has also helped improve her concentration, her approach to things is more positive and she sees and identifies colors and life in everything around her,” she said.

Encouraging children to engage in artistic expression at home can open up their world and help to build more meaningful connections, while they strive to reach their full potential.


THE ROUNDUP – Pop-culture highlights from the region

THE ROUNDUP – Pop-culture highlights from the region
Updated 15 April 2021

THE ROUNDUP – Pop-culture highlights from the region

THE ROUNDUP – Pop-culture highlights from the region

FREEK

The Dubai-based, UAE-born Somalian MC — one of the leading figures in the Arabic drill scene — released new single, “Kafi,” late last month, ahead of a new album due to drop at the end of May. “Kafi” isn’t typical of Freek’s repertoire, it’s calmer, but with a strong lyrical message. In a press release, he described it as an “emotional” track that “tackles the issue of child abuse … and how children deal with it.”

HUDA LUTFI

The veteran Egyptian artist’s latest solo show, “Our Black Thread,” is currently running in Cairo’s Gypsum Gallery. It consists of hand-sewn, embroidered works that began as improvisations on organza teabags. “She asks what form of intentionality separates craft from art,” a gallery statement read. “She (uses) repetition as a formal statement on endurance and resistance.”

DB GAD

The 28-year-old Egyptian rapper released his new track “Mooga” (Waves) this month. It’s a song inspired by the well-known novel “The Life of Pi,” he explained in a press release. “As lonely and emotional as one can get when leaving your home and the ones you love, sometimes you have to let go and just go with the waves,” Gad said.

MARWAN PABLO

The Egyptian MC and trap pioneer formerly known as Dama made an unexpected comeback from his ‘retirement’ (announced last year) in late February, releasing a hard-hitting new song called “Ghaba” (Jungle), the video for which has now racked up more than 13 million views on YouTube. It was followed up in late March by the release of “CTRL” — a five-track EP.