Sara has an ear for accents. She admits she struggles with mine. I am a stranger to her, my voice all she knows of me, still she hugs me like an old friend.
Now she knows the smell of my perfume, my name, and the sound of my laugh. All she needs really; the rest is superfluous. Sara Minkara is blind.
She lost her sight when she was seven, but she calls herself lucky; living in the United States, in a loving family, aware community, she had good support and a happy childhood. She was able to pursue her education all the way to a graduate degree.
But her story could have panned out differently, she discovered one summer. She was on holiday with her family in Beirut;
Sara is Lebanese-American. She found the streets dangerous, society ill-informed, public spaces ill-equipped for the blind.
Documentation in Braille almost nonexistent, just like government support. Healthcare and education were paid out of pocket. Local charities did their best. But the blind in Lebanon did not have a disability; the blind in Lebanon were disabled.
Had she grown up here, Sara realized, she would have been disabled too. Would she have gone to college, built a career, become a social entrepreneur? Would she have pursued her ambitions or would she have stayed at home?
She had never considered herself a victim; we all have our handicaps. The blind in Lebanon could not be victims either; she had to change that mindset.
Empowerment through autonomy, personal development, social and economic integration. She started with a summer camp called Rafiqi, which means ‘my friend in Arabic.
At Camp Rafiqi both children who could and could not see lived together. They played and worked together, got to know each other, understood what being blind means. By the end of it they left with skills, friendships, and a more open mind.
The summer camp grew into an organization called Empowerment Through Integration, http://www.etivision.org/ which fosters social awareness and support for the rights of the visually impaired. It provides blind youth with inclusive educational and recreational programs, practical skills for everyday life and career planning and guidance.
Whether it comes from learning to use a computer or a walking cane, speaking in public or asking for directions, shopping for groceries, drafting a CV or cover letter, applying for a job or university, empowerment gives these young people the tools to fight for the life they seek. To date, ETI has helped over 3,000 individuals.
Sara’s foundation raises funds by hosting Dinners in the Dark: with a blindfold on, for the length of a dinner, you can experience her world.
It is unsettling, transformative, and a lesson in appreciation and understanding. I strongly recommend it, and do not worry: Sara will be there to guide you.