Breaking Barriers: Anybody Can Paint

At the Government High School for Blind Girls, Malakpet, on 25 January, the courtyard was awash in artfully brushed shades of blue, brown, and red. There was excitement in the air as forty visually impaired schoolgirls gathered under a large tree to do the unimaginable: painting.

A girl swipes blue paint across her canvas using small strokes.

This art workshop was organized by Not Just Art to teach basic painting techniques to this group of underprivileged girls. It was led by organization Anybody Can Paint and supported by the Microsoft India Development Centre.

Anybody Can Paint instructor Sameer Nagi welcomes the girls and sets the scene for the workshop.

The girls were seated in front of palettes and blank canvases containing only a clear outline of a tree. Painting instructor Sameer Nagi then led them through the process of applying brushstrokes, selecting colors, and layering shades to create a stunning image of a tree against shadowed dunes. The girls (ranging from 6th to 10th grades) required minimal assistance, only occasionally drawing on the help of volunteers to orient them on the canvas. By the end of the workshop, each girl had a unique canvas on her easel and a huge smile on her face.

A young artist feeling the canvas for the raised outline of the image to be painted.

This was the latest in a series of programs at the Government High School designed to break stereotypes about visually impaired people. Along with the painting workshop, Youth4Jobs and School staff have arranged picnics and field trips. These activities form a holistic intervention for the girls to experience activities beyond their traditional academics--ones which they were never given the opportunity to explore. The girls come from poor families in the villages of Telangana. School dropouts are high as their parents feel that they are “useless” burdens. However, the recent programs were designed to empower and inspire the girls. Other Youth4Jobs initiatives include setting up a computer lab to teach technologies which improve learning outcomes to trainers and students.

An aerial view of a girl applying blue paint to her canvas, assisted by a volunteer.

A girl dabbing red paint onto the canvas with a dish scrubber--leaves on a tree.

The painting workshop was the first event held by Not Just Art. Founder Meera Shenoy was present at the workshop, as well as the local corporator and DIG of the local police station. The school headmistress, Ms. Padmavati, remarked that the Youth4Jobs team positioned in her school helps her kids take part in activities which make them feel confident and fully-abled; they could go back home to their villages and boast about this to their sisters and brothers. Shenoy said, “We believe in fostering the abilities in disability. We plan to take these workshops across the country with our new startup, Not Just Art.”

Several teachers in the school commented on the increased confidence and motivation present in the girls after the workshop. The new artists were even more excited by the opportunity. Bangaru, a totally visually impaired girl, said, “‘I am super happy--someone has given me a chance to hold the painting brush and believed in us and that feeling itself makes me high.”

The artists and their finished paintings, seated in the courtyard of the Government High School for Blind Girls, Malakpet.

Another totally visually impaired girl, Manikeshwari, said, “’I don’t know how the painting was looking like nor I know the colors used for the painting, but still I was enjoying and felt that we are treated like any other sighted person is. It is a proud moment for me and if someone could give us further training in this field, I am ready to learn and explore.”

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A group photo of our new artists, Anybody Can Paint instructors, school staff, and volunteers.