Armless Artist

I saw this incredible story a few moments ago.  It is about Swapna Augustine, a woman from born in Kerala, India who was born without arms.  She uses her feet to paint and makes a living from selling her artwork.  What amazed me about this story was the dream her father had of her before she was born.

Swapna is an inspiration for all us because she refuses to be let her disability define or inhibit her.

Swapna is a member of the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists.  You can check out her work here.

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Homeless Beauty Contestant

On Friday night I read the touching and inspiring story of Miss Colorado USA Blair Griffith.  Blair and her mother were evicted from their home last November, just a month after she received her crown.   This was the latest of the misfortunes the 23 year old has had to deal with. 

In an interview with TODAY’s Meredith Vieira, Blair recalls when her life began to take a downward spiral.   Eight years ago, when Griffith was in eighth grade, her father, who had encouraged the young tomboy to enter the pageant world, took ill. When he died of prostate cancer, “that’s when things really started to take a downward turn,” Griffith told Vieira.

Soon, the stress of being a single mom to two children took its toll on Griffith’s mother, Bonita; she suffered a heart attack that required surgery, and was unable to work. Bonita Griffith lost her insurance when her insurer declared that the heart attack was the result of a pre-existing condition. That meant that she had to pay her medical expenses, including $800 a month for medications, out of her own pocket. 

Blair said that she didn’t know that she and her mother would be evicted until the sheriff showed up at her door.   She watched, stunned as the sheriff’s officers, armed with an eviction notice, tossed all of their worldly possessions into trash bags.   “It was just very hard seeing everything, all of my belongings, my dresses that I wanted to compete in at Miss USA, thrown into a trash bag and nowhere to be found,” (http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/41778312/ns/today_fahion_and_beauty/).

She and her mother are living with a family friend.  Of her situation, Blair said, “You do sit there and go, ‘Oh gosh, not again.’ But at the same time I think it’s almost like a test .. to see if you can handle it, and what will you make out of your situation.” 

Homeless, Blair now faces the prospect of losing her job at Saks Fifth Avenue when the branch she works at goes out of business next month.  Through it all, she has maintained a somewhat positive or at least philosophical outlook.  She told Denver’s 9 News, “I have no place to complain about anything that’s going on in my life. There’s so many people that are going through the same exact situation. I hope to inspire people” (http://ca.news.yahoo.com/blogs/dailybrew/miss-colorado-trying-times-20110224-122948-067.html). 

Blair is an inspiration to her mother.  “I’m just amazed that whatever we have gone up against, she stands there, she handles it and she moves on.”

And she is an inspiration to others.  She openly speaks about her circumstances at schools and events.   The message here is that no one is immune from homelessness.  Circumstances can change and if it weren’t for the family friend who is providing a roof over their heads, it is possible that Blair and her mother would be living on the streets.  This is the reason why we cannot look at the homeless and make assumptions or look down on them.  I am sure that it never occurred to Blair that she would lose her home.

When I watched the news feature, “No Place to Hang Her Crown” the first thing that struck me about Blair was how she was laughing as she stood in a classroom.  You would never suspect that she was going through a tough time.  And she has a very positive outlook.   She counts herself and her mother as being luckier than many.   “We’re doing good by the grace of great friends who let us come in and stay in their homes,” she said. “We have a place to stay right now. Of course, we’re just trying to work to get our lives back together again to be able to afford our own home.”

Right now Blair is busy preparing for the Miss USA pageant which will be held on June 19 in Las Vegas where she hopes to share her message of hope.

“My message when I get there is just that I want to be an inspiration to everyone and show you that no matter the hardships you’re facing, if you stay focused on your dreams and your goals, you can achieve them.”

What poetic justice it would be if this inspiring and aspiring beauty queen were to win the coveted Miss USA crown.

The Benefits of Education

I am so thankful that I was born and raised in a country where education was easily accessible.  My gender was not a factor in the quality of education I received as it is, unfortunately in some countries.  I learned History, Geography, Social Studies, French and I loved English.  My interest in writing began when I was in school. 

I read a post today about the benefits of education.  On a recent visit to the UAE, Penny Low, Singapore’s People Action Party member, explained how women can become productive members of the society through “education, empowerment and enhancement” that will benefit the community at large.

She said it is the realisation that what one makes of circumstances and situation that makes life fulfilling, especially changes for the betterment of all, specifically the marginalised.

Low then explained what social innovation is and how women can contribute to the social cause to strengthen the community and the civil society. 

Low said that women can only contribute to the social cause when they are open to their surrounding and observe what is going around them, adding that there is a rise of a global concern for “green and ecologically-friendly” lifestyle. 

Low used Florence Nightingale, a celebrated English nurse, to demonstrate how her nursing care during the 1850s Crimean War evolved into the nursing profession today.  I can think of another example–Eva Smith. 

Eva Smith was a community outreach worker and counsellor who knew and understood people in despair, particularly youth. She was a woman of action, determination and persistence.

In 1987, she helped to found the North York Emergency Home for Youth. Her work and advocacy resulted in the construction of our first shelter, Eva’s Place, which was named in her honour. Eva Smith’s mission was to use her skills and her knowledge of how the social services system works to help people find solutions to their problems (http://evasinitiatives.com/who.php). 

“Each one of us has potentials inside,” Low said, pointing out that with social innovation comes the responsibility to propagate the three “D’s” namely education, empowerment and enhancement.  She urged women to use their potential.  “People work for a living and live for a cause. Woman or man, find your cause, and live it to the fullest.” (http://gulftoday.ae/portal/1cb93e89-b52a-444a-80d0-0b3cdb88fbe3.aspx).

There is the old adage that “a mind is a terrible thing to waste”.  I urge the women to educate themselves, find interests, passions, causes, keeping in mind that they are building themselves up to be pillars of strength and inspiration for their communities.  Take Eva’s initiative and use your skills and knowledge to make a difference.