Sabriye Tenberken

Sabriye Tenberken

Meet Sabriye Tenberken, a woman who gives new meaning to activism and inspiration. Born in Cologne, Germany, she became blind at age 12. A trip to Tibet as a young adult was life-changing. Sabriye, along with Paul Kronenberg, founded Braille Without Borders, a worldwide organization that creates training programs and Braille book printing houses. The two are also the co-directors and co-founders of Kanthari, an international institute for social visionaries based in Kerala, India.

Originally aired Feb. 2014


Sandi:                       Welcome to another edition of the 51% Conversations with Creative Women. I’m Sandi Klein. The right to be blind without being disabled. That’s the goal of Braille Without Borders. An international development organization which creates training programs and braille book printing houses for blind and visually impaired people. Without Borders means, BWB can work anywhere in the world and at the same time, doesn’t want to set any borders for those who can’t see.

                                 The founders of Braille Without Borders are Paul Kronenberg and Sabriye Tenberken, my guest today. Born in Cologne Germany, Sabriye lost her sight when she was twelve. That didn’t cramp her style. She eventually enrolled at Bonn University were her course work was eclectic to say the least. She studied Central Asian Sciences, learned Mongoloian and modern Chinese. Also studied modern and classical Tibetan along with sociology and philosophy. In 1997 while traveling in the TAR, or Tibetan Autonomous Region, Sabriye discovered those with visual disabilities were ostracized. Children neglected, forced to beg for money. To the Buddhist majority, blindness is seen as a punishment for something one has done in his or her previous life. The situation had quite an impact on Sabriye and she wanted to make changes. It was on that trip that she met Paul Kronenberg, a Dutch engineer. She shared with him her idea, a way to provide training for blind and visually impaired Tibetans. The pair joined forces and created what eventually became Braille Without Borders.

In 2005, Sabriye co-founded Kanthari, an institute for social visionaries that encourages and fosters those from all over the globe, who like her, have a passion, a dream, a goal to make the world a better place. It’s based in Kerala in South of India. Sabriye’s work has been duly recognized. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. In 2011, she was cited by the Government of China as one of the fifteen most influential overseas experts over the past thirty years in the country. Sabriye is also the author of “My Path leads to Tibet”. A best seller that’s been translated into fourteen languages. Let’s not waste any more time and let’s meet the amazing and inspiring Sabriye Tenberken.

What an honor and a privilege to meet you.

Sabriye:                    Thank you very much.

Sandi:                       I want to travel back in time to Cologne Germany. You’re twelve years old. You lose your eyesight. What happened?

Sabriye:                    I started to lose my eyesight with nine already. It was very, very gradual. It started first with not being able to see colors anymore, and then faces. Then people started tease me. I think this was effecting me even more than losing the sight. With the age of twelve, I decided I am now blind and I have to embrace blindness. I should not whine anymore about things that I could not do, but I have to concentrate on the possibilities instead of the disabilities.

Sandi:                       But, did you have an illness? Did this just come upon you? It had to have been, even though it started at nine and then you lost your sight completely at twelve, it’s still a shock.

Sabriye:                    For my parents it was not a shock. They knew that I would become blind with starting puberty. The doctors, they told them, that it’s RP, or it’s a special form of RP which is Retinitis Pigmentosa. For them it was clear that at one point I would turn blind. For me it was not clear because my parents didn’t tell me necessarily.

Sandi:                       Huh.

Sabriye:                    They didn’t want to shock me or they didn’t want to create fear in me. I must say, I was terrified of being blind. I felt that I didn’t want to be in darkness. I knew of course, not I knew, but I thought it would be totally dark. A great thing about being blind, at least for many, many blind people I met, they would say exactly the same thing. The great thing is, is doesn’t really become dark. Despite the fact that I don’t see anything.

Sandi:                       Hmm

Sabriye:                    Even though light, no darkness. The world surrounding me became actually much, much more colorful. Because I could imagine it.

Sandi:                       Is this a disease that’s hereditary? Did anybody in your family have this RP?

Sabriye:                    No. Nobody in my family had it, therefore, nobody really knows where it came from. It could a mutation, it could Rubella. I could be a gas explosion at this time when my eyes were developing. Nobody really understands why I have this.

Sandi:                       Do you have other siblings?

Sabriye:                    Yes. I have an older brother, he’s perfectly sighted. All of my relatives are very, very sighted and very visual. I’m visual as well, actually.

Sandi:                       Aside from saying that you were frightened, were you angry?

Sabriye:                    I was angry. I was very, very angry. I was very temperamental. I was mainly angry because of the people surrounding me. Because the people, they treated me like a little kid. They didn’t take me seriously anymore.

Sandi:                       Hmm

Sabriye:                    Before, I had a lot of friends, and suddenly I didn’t have any friends anymore. This really got on my nerves.

Sandi:                       People didn’t know what to do with you.

Sabriye:                    Exactly. Exactly. They didn’t know how to talk to me. They didn’t know what I could do, what I could not do. Of course, in Germany, people have this very weird sense of what it is to be blind, so they know exactly what is good for you and what is not good for you.

Sandi:                       Or so they think.

Sabriye:                    Exactly. That’s what they think. I was really rebellious against that. I didn’t like it at all.

Sandi:                       So, did you not go to a special school, or see specialists? Did you create your own world for yourself that you didn’t need help from professionals?

Sabriye:                    I went to a special school, later. I was at first at a regular school. Actually, I was at Bolivar School. It didn’t really work out anymore because it didn’t read what’s on the blackboard

Sandi:                       Of Course.

Sabriye:                    Things like that. Then when I decided, yes. Now I have to embrace blindness, I went to a very, very good school for the blind. It’s a school that has a lot of focus on academia. It’s a school that is very sport oriented. We learned, for example, we had white water kayaking. We had horses. We had skiing. Downhill skiing, cross-country skiing.

Sandi:                       They were not going to treat you like an invalid.

Sabriye:                    Exactly. No, they actually in the opposite. They would give us all the techniques and the tools. We had to learn them and of course we had to become professional in these techniques and the tools. Then they said, then the world is open for you. You have to discover your world. That was a great, great attitude.

Sandi:                       Mm Hmm

Sabriye:                    From the teachers taught us. They expected a lot from us.

Sandi:                       To be proactive.

Sabriye:                    Absolutely.

Sandi:                       To take your life into your own hands.

Sabriye:                    Absolutely.

Sandi:                       Except that you, there’s a quote that you had said that you felt like you came from the margins of society.

Sabriye:                    Yes. [Laughing] I felt very, very alienated. At first I felt alienated in a negative way. I must say later, I accepted it. I said, well, I was an alien, I will be an alien, I am an alien. But now, what can I do to make the alienation in a positive way. First of all, I wanted to get out of Germany and wanted to test myself probably also. I wanted to have adventure. I wanted to discover new worlds. I wanted to learn languages and write about it. Contribute to society. That’s why I decided to study Tibetology.

Sandi:                       Yea. That was my next question. You go to Bonn University, and Oh my God, as I tick these things off. Modern Chinese. Mongolian, Central Asian Studies. How did you pick that curriculum?

Sabriye:                    My favorite subjects were probably more philosophy and sociology which was in addition to all these languages. Tibetology, I studied, not really because of a lot of other peoples, they have lots of reasons for studying Tibetology because they want to be in a monastery,

Sandi:                       Mm Hmm

Sabriye:                    They want to look at all these ancient texts. For me that was not very important. For me, it was the language. I wanted to learn the language, because when you are traveling on your own, you have to master the language. You have to be able to talk. My lip reading, my non-verbal

Sandi:                       Doesn’t really exist does it? [Laughing]

Sabriye:                    Communication is not very advanced. Therefore I studied all these different languages. Chinese, Mongolian, and Tibetan. Mainly Tibetan. During my studies, I had to actually create a braille system for the Tibetan language because I needed some kind of system in which I could write down my vocabularies and my grammatical sentences.

Sandi:                       Mm Hmm

Sabriye:                    I studied, of course, I studied this system the Tibetan system, which is based on the Sanskrit system. I created a Braille system which is one on one translatable. Later somebody found out that this braille system is not existent in Tibet yet. I decided to go to Tibet to show it to the education department and to show it also to blind people in Tibet. See what I could do with it.

Sandi:                       So, that’s what propelled you to make that first journey to Tibet.

Sabriye:                    Exactly. Yes. Yes.

Sandi:                       Which, by the way, you made on horseback?

Sabriye:                    Partly, yes. On horseback. That has a good reason. Because, when I travel in a car, and there in a window between and the outside world, it’s very difficult to really find out what’s going on outside. I cannot listen to the rivers and to the wind.

Sandi:                       Mm

Sabriye:                    What is all out there. When I’m on a horse, of course, the surrounding is touching me basically. It’s very, very, I can smell the things, I can listen to all the bells of the oxen and this is how I create pictures in my mind of Tibet.

Sandi:                       Now, how old were you when you made this amazing journey.

\Sabriye:                   I was twenty-six years old when I started to venture out.

Sandi:                       That was the first time you left the country?

Sabriye:                    No. No, no. I lived in America,

Sandi:                       Oh. I didn’t know that.

Sabriye:                    before for one year. In Philadelphia, yea. As an exchange student. I was sixteen, came to America.

Sandi:                       So, your wanderlust goes back a bunch of years.

Sabriye:                    Yes.

Sandi:                       Before the trip to Tibet.

Sabriye:                    I love to travel. I traveled a lot on my own. Mainly also because it’s really annoying as a blind person with a sighted person, people always tend to talk to the sighted person.

Sandi:                       [Laughing]

Sabriye:                    It really happens still, when Paul and I travel together. That people just talk to him.

Sandi:                       Mm Hmm

Sabriye:                    It really annoys me. I have a mouth. I have a brain. But they still say, does she want. Does she want?

Sandi:                       You’re invisible.

Sabriye:                    Does she want sugar in her coffee?

Sandi:                       Oh, gosh. Uh Huh.

Sabriye:                    This was something like back then either. I thought well, I need to be able to travel on my own. To experience the landscapes, the people surrounding me. The animals. All the challenges. I was very adventurous. The first motivation was not really a social one, I must admit. The first motivation was mainly adventure and the escape of a very controlled and very, very homey kind of atmosphere, which Germany gives.

Sandi:                       Homey, or do you mean safe?

Sabriye:                    Home like feeling, sitting safe in your sofa and being pampered basically.

Sandi:                       Okay. Okay. What kind of relationship did you have with your parents? Were they very encouraging for you to go out on your own? To strike out on your own?

Sabriye:                    Absolutely. Absolutely. My mother was an adventurer herself. She traveled a lot through Turkey when she was a young student. She traveled actually dressed as a man because she had to measure mosques.

Sandi:                       Ay yi yi

Sabriye:                    That was in the very beginning of the sixties.

Sandi:                       That’s hereditary for you.

Sabriye:                    Maybe

Sandi:                       You got some of your mom’s genes in your

Sabriye:                    Yes. Definitely. They were all, they are some very creative thinkers. Very creative people. My brother is also an artist. Yes. I do believe that something came over to me.

Sandi:                       So, here you are, you’re in the Himalayas, or the Himalayas, and you’re traveling with a group I’m guessing. You weren’t by yourself?

Sabriye:                    Yes. Well, I came to Tibet by myself.

Sandi:                       You traveled from Germany

Sabriye:                    To Tibet by myself.

Sandi:                       By yourself

Sabriye:                    Yes. Of course, when travelling alone, you meet a lot of people. This is the great thing. I really wanted to venture through the countryside. Through the remote areas, because I wanted to meet people in the remote areas where cars could not come. Then I decided to put together a small caravan. There were actually horse riders who went to the countryside where I wanted to go. I heard that a lot of blind people are there because of the Vitamin A deficiency. We put a caravan together and we followed these horse people who wanted to go there anyway. Then, we met a lot of families with older blind people and with younger blind people. Some people thought that I am a doctor, [laughing] and they wanted to get cure from me. We also met some people with children. That was actually, at first, it was very, very depressing. I really must say. The children, they were not taken seriously. Kids were tied to a bed. Yea. Or hidden in dark rooms. Mainly because the parents were ashamed.

Sandi:                       Because they were blind.

Sabriye:                    Because they were blind. Then later I found out that blindness is really seen as a punishment for something you had done in your past life.

Sandi:                       Yea. So, this obviously is so impactful on you. You’re thinking, I’ve got to do something.

Sabriye:                    Actually, at first, I thought I cannot do anything.

Sandi:                       [Laughing]

Sabriye:                    Who am I to come here as a long nose and telling the people to change. Then I met a little boy, eight years old, Tenzen, he is now a grown up man. He actually he said, I heard you are blind. I am blind too. This was the only person who actually said it with a sense of pride. That gave me the courage to do something. I found out that this little boy, he didn’t go to school. While the other kids went to school, he herd the yaks and the goats in the mountains.

Sandi:                       Hmm

Sabriye:                    That was very, very interesting to me, because he had a sense in life. He had a meaning in life. He was not ashamed at all. This was the point where I said, well I wanted to start not really exactly a school for the blind, but much more. A springboard for them. To give them energy. To give them power. To give them the understanding that we don’t have to be ashamed. Where they get all the knowledge, the mobility training. The knowledge in braille, in English Braille, Chinese braille, Tibetan Braille. And everything they need to learn to actually take their lives in their own hands and just back into society. Say yes, I’m blind, so what.

Sandi:                       They hadn’t, until you entered their lives, for the most part. They had no resources.

Sabriye:                    Exactly. Yea. They were absolutely ostracized. They were outcasts of society. Some of them were not outcasts of society but were basically sitting on the streets and begging. Some were really hidden away. They would never ever see other people or meet other people.

Sandi:                       So, how do you start that? You become overwhelmed by this and then you think, I want to do something. After you get over this who the hell am I to think that I can do something. You move to that next phase, how do you even get this thing off the ground? How do you start?

Sabriye:                    Well, I knew that I couldn’t past the government. I went to the government without an appointment actually. I went in there with my cane. I think they were a bit shocked because I came.

Sandi:                       [Laughing]

Sabriye:                    A long nose, a blind person, they probably never saw a blind person before, or at least not a confident one. In my really bad Tibetan and a little bit of Chinese, I tried to explain what I wanted to do. Somehow, it made an impression on them. Or, they wanted me out of the office.

Sandi:                       Or they were afraid of you. [Laughing]

Sabriye:                    That could also be. [Laughing] Somehow they gave me all the contracts that I needed to do some fundraising in Germany with all the nice red stamps that I needed. The next thing was, I met Paul. Paul was the only foreigner that didn’t think that was totally crazy.

Sandi:                       Crazy

Sabriye:                    Yea. Exactly. He was interested in what I was doing. He was just saying, let me know what you’re doing and maybe I can help you in one or the other way. Of course, what I didn’t know, was that he would actually quit his job, if I just, I just had to call him. I did so. I called him. I just said, well, I’m leaving next week and I just want to say goodbye. That was, I think, about eight months later.

Sandi:                       You were in Tibet for eight months?

Sabriye:                    No. I was in Germany for eight months to do fundraising.

Sandi:                       Right.

Sabriye:                    To talk to the German government and to get the startup funding for this project.

Sandi:                       How long were you in Tibet that first time?

Sabriye:                    The first time, three months.

Sandi:                       Okay. And then you, that’s when you went back to Germany to get this project off the ground.

Sabriye:                    I quit university by the way. I dropped, or I jumped out.

Sandi:                       [Laughing]

Sabriye:                    I had the feeling. Well, I studied because I wanted to do something like this. I felt this is now the time. Why do I need a university degree if I just have the project on my plate?

Sandi:                       Exactly.

Sabriye:                    that I wanted to do. I called him, he didn’t say anything. I said Paul, don’t cry,

Sandi:                       [Laughing]

Sabriye:                    Just wish me good luck. He came with me. He said, well I quit my job. I come with you. Sometimes it’s good to quit somethings to jump out of a system to do something.

Sandi:                       Absolutely. And he was, I guess he was smitten by the whole idea. And not overwhelmed by it, I gather.

Sabriye:                    No. No, he was not overwhelmed but he was adventurous enough to see the potential of it.

Sandi:                       So, how hard was it to collect money? To raise money for this project.

Sabriye:                    It was difficult. Let me tell you why. It was mainly difficult because people didn’t believe that we could do it. It’s very, very difficult to start something and people would always say, you are too small.

Sandi:                       Hmm

Sabriye:                    Stay on the ground.

Sandi:                       Mm Hmm

Sabriye:                    Don’t grab for the stars. Who are you? People knew that I was not a social.

Sandi:                       A pushover.

Sabriye:                    I was not a social pettifog. So, why are you going to dare to start a school for the blind?

Sandi:                       Mm Hmm

Sabriye:                    Of course, Paul didn’t know anything about blind people. So, who was he?

Sandi:                       There was a little nervousness, not nervousness that sounded a little odd.

Sabriye:                    They would not trust us.

Sandi:                       Right, their lack of trust.

Sabriye:                    It’s very, very often, with social visionaries, with people who have a vision or have a dream, it’s very often that they hear this. Come on, stay on the ground, don’t grab for the stars.

Sandi:                       Mm Hmm. Mm Hmm

Sabriye:                    This is what we hear normally.

Sandi:                       You were able to amass a certain amount of money to get this off the ground?

Sabriye:                    Yes. Here and there, and slowly but steadily. Of course because we are. We can talk a lot, but we are actually doing what we are saying. That gives the trust.

Sandi:                       You put your money where your mouth is.

Sabriye:                    Oh. Okay. That’s an interesting saying. [Laughing]

Sandi:                       Yea. That’s more of a New York economists saying I guess. So, was it just the two of you who did Braille without Borders?

Sabriye:                    Yes.

Sandi:                       How did you come up with that name?

Sabriye:                    Yea. Actually, of course, Braille is obvious. For us, Braille is the doorway to the world basically.

Sandi:                       Mm Hmm

Sabriye:                    For me at least, it was. It is the form of literacy. It’s not necessarily an audio book. Or a daisy book or something like that. That’s a great thing to have. Braille is the substitute to have for actual reading with your eyes. Therefore, braille is as a very, very important method or important tool for blind people to get literacy. Without borders means, on one hand, that we can work wherever. It doesn’t have to be only in Tibet, but without borders means much, much more that we don’t to set borders. The inner borders. The boundaries. The limits to blind people.

Sandi:                       Mm Hmm

Sabriye:                    We just have to empower them. To see the beauty of blindness. Not just to whine about all the things that they cannot do.

Sandi:                       You’ve got this money, you’re back in Tibet. Was it difficult to get this project off the ground once you were there?

Sabriye:                    Yes. It was very difficult because we had a lot, lot of challenges. In the beginning, there’s always a little bit of luck in the beginning. Otherwise you wouldn’t start.

Sandi:                       Mm Hmm

Sabriye:                    We, for example, we were host in an orphanage. It was, it seemed to be great and because we got all the rooms for free and we got all the support we needed, but actually, we found out that the principal of the orphanage. He wanted to get much, much or out of us.

Sandi:                       Money wise?

Sabriye:                    Money wise. Yea. Paul was working for the Red Cross, I was alone very often. There was, for example, one very interesting thing. He was, he told me, that he bought the furniture that I had requested for and paid for, and I never saw the furniture. I said where is the furniture? He said, if you could see, you could see the furniture in the room.

Sandi:                       Oh, come on.

Sabriye:                    Yea. Exactly. We just don’t know were the key is right now.

Sandi:                       So, he’s pulling the wool over your eyes.

Sabriye:                    Exactly. Then, Paul came and I said can you just have a look in this room, through the window. He said, the room is empty. These things happened. Then we found out how he was treating our kids. He was just using them. They were cute, they were, he just used them as a cute factor.

Sandi:                       Mm Hmm

Sabriye:                    We, at a certain point, we were thrown out of the building because we had a big mouth.

Sandi:                       [Laughing]

Sabriye:                    So, we were standing with six kids on the road, basically. In the middle of the winter, and the winter was really freezing cold. Paul was sick. I had a lot to do to keep these kids safe with me. But they didn’t want to go home either. Because they felt so familiar with us and they felt that we were their new parents in a way.

Sandi:                       Sure.

Sabriye:                    So, they didn’t want to leave us. Luckily we found another place which is actually, it’s a small, it’s called podrong, it’s small. They call it pilatzo, like a little palace, but it’s not really a palace. But it is belonging to the family of the thirteenth Dalai Lama They asked us to come in the school, and we felt so welcome, so warmly treated. Later they asked us why don’t you want to buy this house, and of course we had.

Sandi:                       No money.

Sabriye:                    Money, we had no money, but then at this time, I was writing my first book, My Path Leads to Tibet. What was quite funny, we were so naïve to say, this book is probably going to be a best seller.

Sandi:                       [Laughing]

Sabriye:                    So, we said, let’s have a contract with you that we pay in a half year because the book would come out in three months from that and then I thought maybe in a half year we’d get so much money that we would buy the house. Actually, we paid six days late.

Sandi:                       Really?

Sabriye:                    Yes.

Sandi:                       That actually worked out the way you thought it was going to.

Sabriye:                    Exactly. It became a best seller.

Sandi:                       Boy, there’s a lot of luck on your side.

Sabriye:                    Yes. I must say. Normally, I don’t really tell this to our students in India because this is something I would never do today. But then.

Sandi:                       With all your wisdom.

Sabriye:                    Exactly.

Sandi:                       What year was that? What year are we talking about?

Sabriye:                    That was about 2000. 2000 the book came out, and we paid for the house in the winter of 2000.

Sandi:                       Now, how did Braille Without Borders expand beyond Tibet?

Sabriye:                    Yea. Actually, the thing is that we saw that all our dreams were coming true in one or the other way. Despite the fact that everybody would tell us it’s not possible.

Sandi:                       Mm Hmm

Sabriye:                    Of course it’s possible, we just have to find the right way, and we have to believe in our dream. We said, so if it is possible to empower blind kids to run their own projects. Now, our blind kids from the first and second generation are actually running this project in Tibet.

Sandi:                       [Laughing]

Sabriye:                    Why not training other blind people or people from the margins in general who have a social vision. Why not training them in making their dreams come true. Their social dreams come true. We wanted to make out of this springboard for Tibetan children.

Sandi:                       Mm Hmm

Sabriye:                    We wanted to create a global springboard. For social visionaries from all around the world, who come to a central place where in this world, we thought South of India is very central in this world.

Sandi:                       Ah ha. I see where you’re going with this. [Laughing]

Sabriye:                    We have Africa on one side and Asia on the other side. Actually, South of India looks a little bit like a springboard if you look at the map. We said, we want to be somewhere central in the world and we want to create a center. A dream factory for people with a story. For people who have overcome adversity. It could be blind people. It can be war survivors. It can be people who are fighting against female genital mutilation. It could be women that are abused by society. It could be people who have overcome adversity, but use this adversity as a source of strength. Be motivated. Intrinsically motivated to create their big dreams and then actually realize these big dreams.

Sandi:                       You started your own UNICEF didn’t you?

Sabriye:                    Maybe. Yea. I never thought of it that way, but in a way. It is a very small center. We are highly selective.

Sandi:                       Do you award grants? Now, this is what Kanthari is, right.

Sabriye:                    Yea.

Sandi:                       What’s the definition of that?

Sabriye:                    Ho, ho. Yea. That’s a very important question. Kanthari is a very, very small, but very spicy chili.

Sandi:                       [Laughing]

Sabriye:                    This chili is not only spicy, it’s medicinal as well. It makes you very alert. Much more alter than a coffee. It purifies your blood and it lowers the blood pressure, so it’s very healthy actually. It’s a very healthy chili. The great thing is, this chili grows in the back yards of society. It grows in the back yards of the Kerala’s people. It grows wild.

Sandi:                       Mm Hmm

Sabriye:                    It’s exactly the symbol for our leaders. Or for our social visionaries who have fire in the belly.

Sandi:                       [Laughing]

Sabriye:                    Who have spice in their action.

Sandi:                       Ah huh.

Sabriye:                    And who have the guts to challenge the status quo, but also the possibilities and the energy to come up with healthy medicinal solutions. They are all from the margin of society, just like the Kanthari. We want to actually create a new paradigm of leadership with the word Kanthari. People already apply by saying I am a Kanthari. Which is great.

Sandi:                       That is great. So, they come to the South of India where they are “trained” through your organization. You do award grants.

Sabriye:                    Yes.

Sandi:                       Yes. And where does your money come from.

Sabriye:                    We are doing fundraising. Right now, we are also here in America to do fundraising and to do a book promotion. Maybe I can tell you a little bit about that also.

Sandi:                       Go ahead.

Sabriye:                    We are mainly doing fundraising and trying to convince the people that whatever they give, for example, if they give a scholarship, it’s not a scholarship for an individual. It’s a scholarship. It’s an investment in one project. In a future project for ethical social change. That’s of course, a big, big difference to any other institute in the world or to many other institutes in the world where it’s normally about this individual person. Here, it’s about projects. It’s about social projects. Long lasting social projects that are motivated by an intrinsic interest. Actually, an existential interest. For example, we have people like albinos from East Africa. I don’t know if you heard of that. Albinos in East Africa are very much danger to be killed by witch doctors who hunt albinos down because they want to cut off their body parts and sell them on the black market. Body parts of albinos are supposed to be a good luck charms.

Sandi:                       [Laughing]

Sabriye:                    They make potions out of it. It’s horrible. It’s really, really horrible. We had albinos in our project and they are empowered to do public speaking. To do project management. Campaigning. Fundraising. Really to run their own campaigns against the witch doctors and against the politicians who have fingers of albinos in their pockets to be re-selected.

Sandi:                       Ai, yi, yi. So, there isn’t an area that you don’t touch.

Sabriye:                    No. Actually not. We are really interested in social change engines in Kantharis.

Sandi:                       Mm hmm. Mm Hmm

Sabriye:                    Who have the guts to go against convention, harmful conventions.

Sandi:                       So, what’s tomorrow going to bring for you?

Sabriye:                    Tomorrow, we are very busy with this project. With this Kanthari project and we just want to create another Kanthari in Africa. Most of our applicants, they are from Africa. So, we thought, not having one Kanthari center in Asia, one in Africa, and maybe in the future, one in South America. Who knows?

Sandi:                       Wow. There’s no stopping you is there, Sabriye?

Sabriye:                    Not really. No. No.

Sandi:                       You’re a ballsy broad, you know.

Sabriye:                    But the great thing is, you get so much energy from the people we are meeting. It just, in this trip. We are going around from one city to another. Also, with this author from a book, who wrote about our both projects. She was there as a sighted person being terrified about blindness. She was actually sent by Oprah Winfrey

Sandi:                       Mm Hmm

Sabriye:                    to Tibet to meet me.

Sandi:                       Mm Hmm

Sabriye:                    She didn’t want to meet me actually. She thought why do I have to meet this blind woman? I don’t want to meet blind people. Then she met, not only me, but she met a lot of our kids in Tibet. She was actually blindfolded by these kids. They are shameless. They take her and despite the fact that she was terrified. They would take her through Lhasa, back then a very chaotic city, and they showed her Lhasa under the blindfold where she was never before. She actually got to know Lhasa.

Sandi:                       Experience what that’s like too.

Sabriye:                    Exactly. Then she came to, she was very inspired. She came then later as a teacher to Kerala, to Kanthari. She met these most extraordinary people. Very charismatic people. She wrote about them, she wrote about their stories. I must say, it’s sometimes heartbreaking to read these stories, but most of the time, we were laughing so hard when we read this book. Actually, I was a bit afraid to read her book. By the way, it’s called “For the Benefit of Those Who See.

Sandi:                       Mm Hmm

Sabriye:                    I must say, it’s also for the benefit of those who don’t see.

Sandi:                       Mm Hmm

Sabriye:                    It’s definitely for the benefit of those who are open to change their mind. Whether they are sighted or blind. The greatest thing is really how she describes these blind people and who she describes herself in the interaction with blind people. It’s really hilarious. I can’t very much promote this book because it’s not mine.

Sandi:                       [Laughing]

Sabriye:                    I don’t have anything out of it, despite the fact that people really learn about what we are doing. Maybe are interested then to apply to our Kanthari Center either as a participant. As a social visionaries who want to do social change, or as a catalyst who want to come like Rose Mary Mahoney, (the author) to teach in Kanthari.

Sandi:                       I just have to say this, unlike Rose Mary, I really did want to meet you. I am so thrilled and excited to have met you. You lit a fire under my behind. [Laughing] You are an amazing woman and I only wish you more, you and Paul and your whole organization, and all the people who work with you just so much continued success. The world needs more of you. Clearly.

Sabriye:                    Thank you.

Sandi:                       It’s wonderful. Thank you so much for being with me today.

Join us for another edition of the 51% Conversations with Creative Women. I’m Sandi Klein.

Narrator:                 Thanks for listening to The 51% Conversations with Creative Women. For show comments and suggestions please follow us on Twitter at #sandikleinshow. You can also find us on Facebook at The 51% Conversations. The show is produced and recorded by Chad Dougatz at the Hangar Studios in New York City. Sandi Klein is our executive producer. an





Chad Dougatz
Chad Dougatz
Chad Dougatz brings more than 20 years of radio and media experience to the show. Before working with Sandi Klein, Chad was a Senior Producer on numerous nationally syndicated radio programs, including The Rosie O’Donnell Show, The Governor David Paterson Show, and Mornings on Air America. Chad is also the owner of The Hangar Studios, an NYC audio production company, where he provides multi-media marketing and production solutions for authors, small businesses, and entrepreneurs.
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