Monday, July 8, 2013

Where there is no Sound or Light - Part two - The Light

Hi there again,

To continue my journey into this wonderful world that I am slowly discovering myself, I would like to present to you my experience with the sight impaired children and young people. 

Light into Europe and myself are penciling a new project that we plan on completing in mid fall this year. A project that includes a presentation trailer of what means having these kind of disabilities, in the sense of highlighting these kids' world. The way they see it and hear it as well as a short documentary that presents in detail the programs, activities and purpose of Light into Europe as a Foundation. 

And as we were brainstorming on how to make the trailer, I realized how challenging it is to put myself in their shoes to create or mimic their world. How do you not see or hear? How does it feel to live in the dark or in the isolation of a world without sound? It's incredibly hard to describe it in words and even harder to show it on camera. 

So I turned to our main actors and heroes, the kids and young people who inspire us every step of the way. I will again use as a recent example our trip to the Peles Castle as a point of observation of how similar yet how different they are from us. 

Here we have Petra, who is graduating high school now. An excellent student, a gifted young lady who not only knows several foreign languages, but also sings, dances and participates in various international and national events promoting the idea of support and allegiance to the cause of the blind and deaf. In Brussels they even named a law after her, called Petra's Law - that's how far she went with her dedication to her goal; because she too suffers from a very serious sight problem, and despite wearing glasses she can barely glance at shadows. 
Petra and her wonderful smile!
And just to make an idea, we were in the armory room when I sat against the window and she stretched her hand to me and asked her mom, "Mom why is that bird sitting there?" At first I didn't realize she saw my hair pinned on the top of my head in the shape of a bird sitting on the window sill because I was only a step away from her. I reached and took her hand and said, "Petra, it's me, Mela." It was hard for me to understand how she could miss seeing me from so close. But then again, a few years back, when I had my eyes checked, they put some medicine to dilute the pupil and they told me that my vision would be blurry for a while. They said, wait here until it goes away, but I didn't believe it could be so bad as to prevent me to walk to the store across the street and buy a snack while waiting. 

Well, it was. And I am sure many of you have gone through it at least once. The moment I stepped outside because of the sun and the medicine I could not decipher the color to the traffic lights to know when it was safe to cross the street. I thought it was preposterous to ask for help to cross the street when I'm in my 20s! And then I had to ask for guidance to find the store because I couldn't read the signs and figure out which one it was out of a long line of other shops. And when I got in, I managed to find my snack but couldn't read the price on it so I asked the cashier to take the money from my wallet because I couldn't see that either. I don't think I felt more impotent than I did then. It never happened again, but it was so frustrating that I called mom afterwards and said "Mom, I'm sorry for not understanding when you ask me to read stuff for you 'cause you don't have your glasses on. Now I understand." 

So I am left wondering, how do you feel having that all day, 24/7? How do you cross the street, pay for a Coke or know whom to salute when you're walking in the classroom? What happens when you can't see anything at all, and all these sounds around you confuse you in a million ways? 

These are questions I cannot answer. But I look at people like Petra who had the courage to attend a normal high school, with normal kids and she's making it beautifully even though they were mean to her many times, inconsiderate at the incredible effort she’s making to do what they do and be where they are with the type of problem she has.

I've seen her and her sight impaired friends laugh, gossip, make fun of each other, acting like total teenagers and I thought how depressed I'd be if I were in their shoes. But what I don't perceive is their acceptance and understanding of life the way it is. And just when I think I cope with my own problems that usually seem bigger than anyone else’s, I am taught a lesson how some other people's problems are much bigger and I should keep my mouth shut, get up and walk because I have everything I need to succeed and make things happen.

I stand in owe to all of them. To their families for being so supportive, patient and above and beyond all, for being warriors, survivors and utterly compassionate. I've witnessed cases where the children are healthy and the parents, due to the accidents or illness have lost their sight or hearing and it is the children (under 10 of age at times) who have the mind set, the love and maturity to sit by them and wait for their mom or dad to slowly communicate with them, through gestures and mimic. 

What is important to understand is that they do not stand as a separate group and do not want to be left alone because they belong to a different kind. No. They want in, with us; they want to share our jokes, they want to share our life experience and they are willing and capable of doing so. 

Looking at them now, I get the same feeling I got when visiting (on two occasions) back years ago the Leper Colony in Tichilesti, Romania, the last of its kind in South-Eastern Europe. I left that place with the same feeling I have today when seeing these young people leading their lives as if nothing were wrong: they make me proud to tears and they show me just how weak I am when I fall back a step from following a dream. They should be inspiration and motivation to us all, and I hope you see them that way as well. 

I know there is a lot of reluctance and misunderstanding going on in our heads. I’ve seen it when visiting the castle as well. Of course, no one was allowed to touch the exhibits, but how can they “see” things if not that way? So the staff was always trying to prevent us from getting close until we passed through a corridor and Petra reached for a mirror encrusted in Murrano Crystal and a local supervisor immediately called out to her. But she stumbled into me and I said “Wait, she can’t see. She has to touch it.” She was so taken aback that she couldn’t react anymore; she just smiled a crooked smiled, trying to look professional and at the same time trying to handle a situation she probably doesn’t run into very often. It takes time and a little bit of faith, but obviously it can be done.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter - perhaps some of you had had encounters like these or have thought of ways to improve our relationship with them. It is by communicating that we can come up with new ways to make a better life for these young beautiful and talented people. And on the same note, I’d like to let you know that some of our meetings on the Duke of Edinburgh, sign language etc will be held in Raiffeisen Meetings Rooms so whomever wants to spend a moment and join us, we’re more than happy to welcome you. We always need fresh ideas and approaches on how to handle matters, so please barge in at any time. You can contact me for details and I will also post the dates and times on my FB page.

So here they are, beautiful and having fun on the Peles Castle trip!

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