Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Stories from the dream factory

There’s little that can top a well-told story, especially if it is your own story.
The five stories I heard last Sunday were in a class of their own. They took me on long journeys across time, space and the recesses of the human mind. They were deeply moving stories of determination, passion and hope.
Above all, they were personal stories told by women and men who have fought the odds just to have the freedom to be themselves and chase their dreams.
So there I was at the International Institute for Social Entrepreneurs near Trivandrum. Every year, the institute — which is a project of Braille without Borders — runs a programme to mould visionaries and social change makers. Those who attend the programme come from across the world, from different backgrounds and with different physical capabilities. What unites them though is the determination to climb every mountain in pursuit of their dream.
Sabriye Tenberken and Paul Kronenberg, the founders of the International Institute for Social Entrepreneurs (IISE), believe that it is a ‘dream factory’ that creates leaders who will drive social change. So towards the very end of each year’s training programme, every participant gets to make a ‘dream speech’ — a presentation on the social venture they plan to run after graduating.
This year, 16 change makers are graduating from the institute, and their stories and dreams are as diverse as they are. There’s Marguerite, a single mother who overcame low self-esteem, got herself a degree in her mid-30s, turned around a business and, more recently, battled the loss of her eyesight. Phoenix-like, she has risen from each adversity, and now intends to create a learning hub in Baltimore to empower African American women.
Then there’s Marcus who saw his family’s fortunes turn to dust and his many ‘friends’ disappear. So what did the ever-smiling Marcus do? He went out and found himself a dream — to start a creative design-based programme to help Nigeria’s marginalised youth build an identity for themselves.
Being partially sighted has worked to her advantage, says Tahreer from Palestine. For it has enabled her to walk down paths that are open to very few women from Hebron. And now, she wants to help other women find ways in which they too can shape their lives. To begin with, she dreams of opening Hebron’s first Internet café for women, which will also be a safe space for Palestinian women to meet, learn and empower themselves.
Raja’s story is one of spunk; of not letting his physical challenges get the better of him. It’s also a story of compassion for people who fall through society’s cracks. While talking to prisoners in the Pondicherry jail as part of his graduate research, Raja realised that their children often get a very bad deal. So his new mission is to set up centres that will take care of the young children of those who are incarcerated in India’s prisons.
And then there’s Nelson, who has seen death, torture and a million other horrors brush past him during Liberia’s long civil war. Now that peace has come, he wants to empower Liberia’s disadvantaged, especially those with disabilities, through a community radio station.
Beyond the adversity, passion and grit that runs through these stories is the tenet that hope endures. And that redemption is only a thought away.
PS: All 15 ‘dream speeches’ are currently up here and will also be available soon on the IISE website I understand.

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