Teaching Blind Children to Read

Chicago by Anis Salvesen

Tony Deifell  was a photographer.  He had a fear of losing his sight that he compares to the fear concert pianists have of losing their fingers.   This project, of teaching photography to the visually impaired, was a little bit about facing that fear.   But more importantly, it was about helping kids express themselves in an unconventional way, thereby helping everyone  who came across their work to see the world through a different  lens.

So what happens when you spend five years teaching visually impaired children photography?  Well, if you’re Tony Deifell, who in addition to being a visual artist is also a social entrepreneur, you end up with some great lessons about innovation (“seeing things differently in the broadest sense”) and leadership (“acting on what you see and helping other people to see”).

You can watch a really great presentation by Tony , where he speaks to Google employees at Mountain View as part of the Authors@ Google program, on YouTube.  The video is 51 minutes long, and though it’s definitely worth watching in its entirety, I thought I would share just a few great parts of the presentation.  The common thread in the many stories he shares is actually the physics of light.  He groups the stories according to the following: Distortion, Refraction, Reflection, Transparence and Illuminance.

At the beginning of his presentation, Tony asks his audience to look for themselves in the pictures and their accompanying stories.  So that is what I did, only I looked for both insights about myself personally and insights about UniversalGiving.

Distortion –   One of the distortions Tony mentioned is fear.  Who can’t relate to that?

For me a big fear has always been sharks.  As a kid, though perfectly cognizant of the impossibility, I was afraid to go in the deeper end of the kiddy pool because it seemed like an excellent place for sharks to lurk.

As far as the applicability of this metaphor to UniveralGiving, I think there is sometimes a “fear” of volunteering, especially in an international setting, and we help people see past that.

Refraction –   Tony shared a wonderful African folk tale, which you’ll have to watch the YouTube video to hear (minute 31:57).  But the moral of the story was that each of us sees only fragments of what’s really out there, of what’s possible.

Not only does UniversalGiving take part in this sharing of knowledge through our own website, but we also watch presentations like this one online, read other people’s blogs to learn from them and in turn share that knowledge.

Reflection –  This is about one’s values.  What values do you hold so dear that they are part of the fabric of your being?  It’s funny that just yesterday, Pamela, our CEO, gave an interview and talked about how you can’t turn off your passion.  She gives of herself all day, helping others to give, but when she goes home, it’s not like she’s done giving for the day.  For example, she often takes delicious leftovers and shares them with the homeless on her walk home.

Transparence – Tony describes this as “ being open and candid and connected in the world, and is about breaking down the barriers.”  What we do at UniveralGiving is break down some of those barriers to volunteering internationally.

Illuminance – This one is great.  It is “about the bigger picture.”

Tony was sitting with a student, sorting through her photographs.  At first when he saw a photo of a crack in the sidewalk, he thought the young lady who had taken the photograph had meant to capture something else on campus.  It turned out, she had deliberately taken a photo of the crack, which she then sent to the school superintendent informing him that the crack was a daily hazard that needed to be fixed.

Who would have expected a visually impaired person to communicate such an issue with a photograph?  At UniversalGiving, we daily have our eyes opened to new possibilities, which is part of what makes working and volunteering here so exciting.

So that’s us. When you look for yourself in the photos, what do you see?  We hope you share with us some of your own insights.  Thank you for reading this blog post, and we look forward to some good stories.

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