“It is love that will save our world and our civilization”
-Martin Luther King Jr.
For Dr Esther Joosa, this is not just a quote, but a way of life. Dr Joosa, who for last many years of her life has dedicated every single day towards building an inclusive society.
Born in a family of educators and artists, she realised early on that art transcends all boundaries. Originally from Netherlands, Dr Joosa moved to Singapore after marrying her Indian-Singaporean husband, 30 years ago.
An arts education graduate, she started taking art classes for children. Among her many students, there were few students with disabilities. It was during this time that she realised that we as a society fail to look beyond the disability of these children and are unable to see the vast potential that they possess. “The arts classes made these children very confident in expressing themselves”, Dr Joosa told The Logical Indian.
Working with children affected by HIV
Slowly she started doing volunteering work towards the upliftment of poor people. In 2011, she partnered with Singapore International Foundation (SIF), through which she got an opportunity to come to India. In partnership with SIF and a Chennai based organisation, Buds of Christ, she began working with poor families and with children affected by HIV. “I worked with children with HIV. When I first came to India, I insisted on including even the mothers of these children in the workshops, since mothers play an extremely important role in helping these children connect with their emotions.”
To strengthen the bond between these children and their mothers, Dr Joosa planned a very interesting activity. “I told the children to apply plaster of Paris on the faces of their mothers. It was an extremely emotional and powerful moment. Many of them were not touched because of the stigma around HIV. It was a great way to strengthen the mother-child bond. The idea behind this activity is that during the time when the mask is put on your face, you are a very vulnerable position. In a way, you place trust in the other person’s hand.”
Dr Joosa says that it was a learning experience for her too. Many of Dr Joosa’s activities concentrated on bringing the attention to the potential of these children rather than their circumstances.
Right now, Dr Joosa works with the Ministry of Education as a consultant.
Work towards suspending social stigma
Apart from working with children living with HIV, Dr Joosa is working towards removing several social stigmas and discrimination.
“Many of the young people I worked with had low-confidence because of the skin colour. I saw my house-help applying these skin lightening creams and I found that very bizarre. To fight this, we conducted activities using paint to show that colour is only skin deep. We also encouraged them to speak of instances they felt loved and instances when they felt awkward to help them express their emotions freely.”
She also used art as a way to fight the stigma attached to windows. “Kolam (intricate design made with rice or chalk powder, drawn outside the house) is an art passed on from mother to her daughter. However, widows are not allowed to draw kolam. We found a way to combat this by telling them to paint it instead.”
Even the women with HIV were encouraged to paint kolam using HIV symbols thereby reinstating their identity beyond that of HIV patients and helping them take pride in their rich heritage.
In one of the upcoming projects, Dr Joosa hopes to engage young men from poor communities. “We will train them on building creative playgrounds using scrap material.”
Association with SIF and Our Better World
“SIF has played a pivotal role in supporting me in my endeavours. They helped me with the logistics and the funding. I travelled through Tamil Nadu and people at SIF helped me connect with orphanages.”
Dr Joosa, about her association with “Our Better World”, said, “Our Better World as an organisation has grown immensely over the years. The organisation has supported my initiatives throughout.”
Challenges and message to The Logical Indian community
“One of the biggest challenges is that there is so much to do but time is not sufficient. I wish I had 48 hours in a day.”
Dr Joosa also says that the people nowadays live the “fast food life”. “I have seen that many people who wish to see changes very fast. The area I am working in, needs a lot of time and patience to bring visible changes.”
When asked if she felt the language barrier as a hindrance, she said, “Absolutely not. I connected with them through art, which transcends language and culture. Being a mother myself, I could empathise and understand the turmoil of the parents of children with these conditions. Also, I have very sensitive translators which bridged the gap.”
On what keeps her going, Dr Joosa said, “When I see the efforts making even a small difference in someone’s life, I get motivated to do more. It is a lot of hard work, but the result is all worth it.”
In her message to the Logical Indian community, Dr Joosa said, “ I would urge people to feel more, listen more and give more. I think opportunities should be provided to everyone.”
She also spoke how embracing one’s individuality is important, “Everyone should treasure their individuality. It is important that we are proud of ourselves and our rich heritage.”