By Marija Andreevska (YES 2017-2018, North Macedonia, placed with AFS-USA in Phoenix, AZ)
Before I moved off to college, I organized a workshop centered around the inclusivity of the visually impaired, titled The Art of the Hand (check it out here). After the amazing feedback, I applied for a YES Alumni Grant to hold a second edition of the workshop. Maintaining the original theme, the All-Inclusive Project was born. Consisting of four separate workshops, it was the biggest project I’d ever taken on, and, at times, I thought I’d gone a bit overboard.
The first workshop consisted of sculpting with participants who are blind or visually impaired. I was lucky to work with the same group of participants as my first Art of the Hand project. We talked and laughed a lot and had a great time. The participants really enjoyed making art, and we even discussed making this a recurring event.
The second workshop, in partnership with the National Association of the Deaf and Near-Hearing, was open to a group of participants of all ages. Organized at a community center, participants were tasked with drawing things that were important to them and that related to inclusivity. Although they weren’t professional artists, they really poured themselves into the process, and the art they created spoke loudly.
The third workshop was held in collaboration with the Special Elementary School for Children with Learning Disabilities, D-r Zlatan Sreme. It was my first time interacting closely with children with learning disabilities. I was nervous that inexperience might ruin the workshop for the kids. I was wrong. By talking with a few of their teachers and caregivers before the workshop, we managed to deliver an amazing experience for the kids. They drew on the themes of Christmas and love (since the workshop took place around the 2019 holidays), and the children seemed very happy with their results. But you should have seen the excitement when I told them their art would be exhibited publicly!
art show, which took place at a popular local cafe, featured art made from
the three workshops. It was a forum for the participants to speak out and be
heard by people outside their communities. It proved to be a success, with many
non-workshop participants attending.
after the art show, news broke of the rapid global spread of a virus, which
would serve to create additional problems for our participants with disabilities
beyond their daily challenges. Everything I knew about the issues they deal
with suddenly became magnified. They seemed to have to carry a bit more weight
throughout the pandemic than people without a disability.
After a long period of postponement, hoping the pandemic would go away so we could resume our activities, we finally held the fourth workshop virtually. Despite many challenges, my team’s collaboration with Trisomija-21, an association that supports people with Down Syndrome, led to a unique experience for participants of the fourth workshop. Art supplies were delivered to them and then, over Zoom, we all painted and talked. Some participants were joined by their parents and siblings, who helped out and opened the event up to fruitful discussions about the impact of the virus, including on the participants' disabilities.
The project really opened my eyes to the needs of various groups within the disability community. Issues stem not only from public policy but from the public itself. I enjoyed doing the workshops, but I believe the participants and parents got a bit more out of it than an hour’s worth of painting. They got the experience of communicating with others in a less conventional way, but a more authentic one. My goal was to get the conversation going. I hope I achieved that.
I don’t want the All-Inclusive project to stop with this last workshop. In times of chaos, the best thing we can do is love each other (at a distance). I'M Excited to see an #allinclusive future!