Eye Sight : Art Therapy Helps Visually Impaired

Rhiannon Williams, Jordan Times, Amman

Having spent thirteen years as an art teacher, it was the loss of her father-in-law's eyesight after an operation that inspired Suha Lallas to create an initiative to teach art to the blind.

Initially reaching out to students with visual impairments and teaching them individually, Lallas then used the opportunity of the opening of her art gallery, Wadi Finan for the Arts, to reach out to the community, she said.

Her journey began three years ago, holding activities for people with visual disabilities at the Jordan Museum in Ras Al Ain and a school in Irbid.

Lallas sought to target those who suffer from visual impairment and also come from an impoverished background, so as to give them opportunities that may not otherwise be available to them.

It was meeting Manal Maaytah that kick-started the "Art for the Blind" initiative. Maaytah is blind herself, having lost her eyesight at age 12 as a result of a medical mistake.

She now heads the Association for the Insightful for Social Development (AISD), based in Zarqa, which involves underprivileged visually impaired students with a range of opportunities, including regular creative workshops with Lallas and the Wadi Finan gallery.

"Maaytah is a role model. She gives the children such amazing support -- she understands them and they look up to her. She's proof of success," Lallas told The Jordan Times in a recent interview.

Both Lallas and Maaytah believe that art is one of the most effective forms of therapy for those with visual impairment. In impoverished living conditions, Lallas says that families often are at a loss with what to do with their children if they are born with or develop visual impairments.

"These children feel like outcasts and are very insecure. We believe in art as a form of therapy. By learning a new skill they didn't believe was possible, the children's self-esteem is boosted," Lallas said.

Teachers employ the Braille method in their workshops, which involves sticking materials of varying texture onto the canvases and guiding the children where to put different colors.

"Through the art classes, the children have learned about different shapes and objects, and through that, they relate and connect them to their practical life," Maaytah said.

"It has also helped further develop their smell and touch senses...they enjoy experimenting with art because it teaches them more about life," she added.

The Art for the Blind project has now worked with some 300 students, with between six and 25 pupils attending each workshop. The classes work with children between the ages of 10 and 18, largely from the Zarqa area.

More than simply teaching art, the initiative is aimed at showing the children that they can be independent and achieve whatever they set their minds to.

Recently, one of the students with visual disability involved in the project, Omar, scored 97 per cent at the General Secondary Education Certificate examination (Tawjihi), according to Lallas.

Additionally, through the awareness of the issues of people with visual impairments through the Wadi Finan and AISD initiative, the St. Vincent de Paul/Educate Me Young Ladies Committee, based in Amman, financially supported two blind students to attend university last September.

Wadi Finan for the Arts, in conjunction with AISD, will shortly be applying for charitable status, under the name of Wadi Finan, to raise funds to continue these projects in underprivileged areas, Lallas said.

Despite putting a portion of the Wadi Finan gallery profit towards the initiative, more is needed to secure even the most basic of facilities, she noted.

Lallas hopes to use the money raised by the projected charity to provide transport for children whose parents are unable to afford getting them to the classes.

In June this year, Lallas and Maaytah hope to host the first exhibition of artworks by the children, to showcase their talents and raise money for the initiative.

(c)2013 the Jordan Times (Amman, Jordan)

Visit the Jordan Times (Amman, Jordan) at www.jordantimes.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services
Search Site