A number of projects in Turkey and the Balkans offer programmes in the arts.
By Menekse Tokyay for Southeast European Times in Istanbul -- 28/01/13
A blind man shouts slogans during a 2004 protest of the people with special needs in Istanbul. Nearly 13 percent of Turkey’s population is disabled. [AFP]
NGOs in Turkey and the Balkans are working to give disabled people a chance for a better life through projects that develop artistic talents.
Arts programming helps disabled people integrate into society while developing their talents. In some cases, it can offer a source of income. Nearly 13 percent of Turkey’s population is disabled.
The Dreams Academy project -- which brings together the Istanbul-based Alternative Life Association, Vodafone Turkey Foundation, the UN Development Program and Besiktas Municipality -- is one of the most renowned of its kind in Turkey. The initiative has aimed to help disabled people become active and engaged citizens since it was launched in 2008, according to Vodafone Turkey Chairman Hasan Suel.
"The aim is to help physically handicapped individuals recover from social exclusion and be more dynamic by fully benefitting from the opportunities of social and economic life," Suel told SETimes. "Within this project, we have been trying to aid the handicapped in overcoming social barriers and to increase their life quality in a sustainable way."
The academy’s 31 free-of-charge workshops offer training in areas including music, dance, drama and animation.
"Through such endeavors, we contributed to change the established social-exclusivist perception towards the handicapped," Suel said.
Dreams Academy also helps the handicapped earn money. Its musical group, known as the Social Inclusion Band, has performed with well-known Turkish musicians and performed 42 of its own concerts. Proceeds from admissions are used to assist the disabled performers.
Its theatre group, Dreams Company, is currently staging the musical "Grease." Through the association’s Dreams Kitchen, founded last April, disabled people learn culinary skills and earn money by selling their creations.
Suel said the academy’s projects have been a success.
"We believe that from the start, we established a volunteer platform to integrate all disadvantaged people into the society with the idea that arts don’t recognize disabilities. In the near future, we plan to open more new workshops to reveal the imagination and potential of the handicapped," he said.
Esra Guney, whose 17 year-old son Halis is one of the 1,720 people to have participated in the academy’s programs, told SETimes she is thankful for the programming.
"My son Halis has downs syndrome. At the Dreams Academy, he focused on culinary arts. He loves making cakes. And now he started to gain money by selling the cakes he produced," she said. "Most important of all, he gained self-confidence, to hold on life. We now have our own dreams. Maybe we can open a cake store."
In Romania, there are similar initiatives aimed at social inclusion of the disabled through art.
In Alexandria, one of the poorest parts of the country, the Euro Youngsters Association recently completed an art therapy project offering disabled children an opportunity to express their artistic talents in a social setting. Eight young volunteers with special talents in painting, theatre and dance worked with a group of 45 disabled youths.
Zamfira Hagiescu, who co-ordinated the programme, told SETimes the goal was to help the youngsters develop an independent and productive life and while integrating into society.
"We do hope that this project becomes a good reference for other youngsters in the area and in the country to break social barriers against them," she said. About 3.5 percent of Romanians have a disability.
In Croatia, some civil society groups help the disabled earn income by proving workshops for them to produce crafts for sale.
"We are fighting against the discrimination of people with mental disabilities and in this way demonstrate that they are able to work and be useful to society," Ante Papic of the Association for Self-Advocacy, which supports the disabled, told SETimes.
The association is financed by several sources, including national and local government, but Papic says the amount is decreasing every year.
About 12 percent of the country's population suffers from disability, according to the Croatian Institute of Public Health.
Correspondents Kruno Kartus in Osijek and Gabriel Petrescu in Bucharest contributed to this report.