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Making arts accessible to children with disabilities

2023-06-07  Staff Reporter

Making arts accessible to children with disabilities

With the help of 15 children with hearing impairment, the Ombetja Yehinga Organisation (OYO) developed a comic book, a poster, a T-shirt and a new short dance piece to create social awareness using the arts.  

The comic book features a deaf heroin, called ‘Peace Girl’.

OYO director Dr Philippe Talavera explained that the children with hearing impairment decided on the character as well as the symbol representing her, the colours she should wear and her superpowers, which are the ability to analyse detail, have a strong sense of balance and the ability to fight.

“The cartoonist then prepared sketches and the children selected the sketch they liked the most,” he added.

OYO embarked on the ‘Hear me’ project with the National Institute for Special Education’s school of the hearing impaired and with support from the Embassy of Bulgaria based in South Africa. Through this project, OYO aims at ensuring children with hearing impairment have access to arts education.

The children embarked on a series of dance training and prepared a short performance on bullying. They contributed to the creation of an eight-page comic book, ‘Peace Girl’, to show that children with hearing impairment can be heroes too. They also contributed to the design of a poster and T-shirts with educational messages.

The comic book, poster and T-shirts were launched on 1 June at the National Institute for Special Education by the deputy executive education director Edda Bohn, who said the basic idea behind the project is to give a hero to deaf or hearing children as someone they could want to be like. 

“Comics in Namibia hardly ever focus on children with disability – and yet, representation matters. It further also promotes literacy in Namibia. People are still struggling to get learners to read. However, comics are a good medium to promote literacy,” she noted.

On his part, Talavera explained that OYO uses the arts because it appeals to people’s emotions, rather than to their intellect.

“When you watch a piece or a movie, you can be moved. You can laugh or you can cry. You feel for the characters. We strongly believe that if you feel, you are more likely to integrate the message and remember it. Sadly, arts education is not always a priority in Namibian schools and might even be less of a priority for children living with disabilities.” 

He added that the idea behind ‘Hear me’ is, therefore, to advocate for more arts education in schools and better access to art projects for children living with disabilities, particularly children with hearing impairment. 

The project is funded by the Bulgarian Development Aid and managed by the Embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria in South Africa. In a statement sent to the organisers for the launch, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Bulgaria to the Republic of South Africa Maria Pavlova Tzotzorkova said she is happy with the project’s achievements. 

“I have always believed that through arts, all children, including those with hearing impairment, can express themselves freely and equally. Art is a universal language – and I must say arts can bring all people together,” she added.

The comic book is currently only 8 pages long, but OYO hopes it can be expanded.

“With the children, we have developed six short stories in total,” said Talavera. 

“It could become a 28-page or even longer Namibian book. We, therefore, hope the project will grow from strength to strength.”

2023-06-07  Staff Reporter

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