Unmute the Spirit: Dancing through the beauty of inclusivity

by | May 17, 2024 | Heartivist Of The Week

In South Africa, the daily challenges faced by people with disabilities are both numerous and daunting. From limited physical access to public spaces to deeply ingrained societal stereotypes, the barriers are immense. For those living in the townships, poverty exacerbates these difficulties, making access to high-quality education an everyday struggle. Disability affects individuals across all socio-economic statuses and races worldwide. Christelle Dreyer and Silva Laukkanen of Tractus Arts launched the book project “Unmute the Spirit”  to change perceptions and increase representation in popular literature for people with disabilities, especially children, by sharing a story of dreams and resilience.

A Heartfelt Story of Resilience and Representation

“Unmute the Spirit” is a poignant and inspiring true story of Andile Vellem, one of the founders of the Unmute Dance Company in Cape Town. The book introduces readers to a young boy named Tumi, his family, and the village community where he grows up. Tumi’s early love for dance and music is beautifully depicted, capturing the joy and freedom he finds in movement. However, Tumi’s life takes a dramatic turn when he becomes Deaf. The narrative traces his struggles and triumphs as he returns to school and pursues his passion for dance despite his disability. Through Tumi’s journey, readers witness his extraordinary achievements on stage and in the classroom, and his emerging role as a community leader. The book, written by Jayne Batzofin and illustrated by Frank Lunar, with editing and direction by Christelle Dreyer and Silva Laukkanen of Tractus Arts, is a testament to resilience and hope.

The Pollination Project provided a seed grant to help bring this inspiring story to life and make it accessible in multiple formats.  Once completed, the finished storybook will be distributed free of charge to elementary schools in South Africa, along with audio and video versions to benefit all students, particularly those needing accessible formats. The book will also be sold in bookstores nationwide at a modest price, making Tumi’s story available to the general public.

With this colorful and dynamically illustrated children’s book, the goal is to lift the voices of people with disabilities and demonstrate to young readers that having a disability does not stop one from dreaming and achieving those dreams.

“With this colorful and dynamically illustrated children’s book we aim to lift the voices of people with disabilities, and to show students that having a disability doesn’t have to stop you from dreaming, and achieving those dreams. With The Pollination Project support for creation of the audio and Sign Language versions, Tumi’s story can become accessible to and enjoyed by all children of South Africa, and beyond.”

A personal experience

Christelle Dreyer passionately speaks about the urgency of dismantling outdated perceptions about people with disabilities. Reflecting on her own life, she shares, “I’m a South African person who identifies as a disabled artist, and the lived experiences of ableism that I have faced throughout my life indicate to me how urgent the need is to dismantle old-fashioned ideas about people with disabilities. Through my work in inclusive dance with children, I have contributed to and witnessed the impact and change that happens when able-bodied children develop understanding and acceptance through personal connection with a person with a disability.”

Christelle further elaborates on the critical need for representation in literature: “During my childhood, when I visited the library, I rarely came across books featuring characters with disabilities or narratives that delved into the experiences of individuals with disabilities. I felt a distinct absence of representation in these stories. Now, as an adult and an artist living with a disability, I continue to grapple with the scarcity of stories that reflect individuals like me. While we now have some children’s books that feature children with disabilities, they still fall short in portraying people with disabilities as adults. Children with disabilities seldom find depictions of themselves as active and valuable participants in society within these narratives. This book project was born from these experiences.”

Tractus Art

Tractus Art, co-founded by Christelle Dreyer and Silva Laukkanen, is dedicated to driving systemic change through the arts for people with disabilities. By amplifying their stories, lived experiences, voices, and skills, Tractus Art envisions a world where instinctive inclusion is the norm. Their transformative projects, such as “Unmute the Spirit,” pave the way for a future where everyone, regardless of their abilities, is empowered to dream, achieve, and be celebrated.

To learn more about Unmute The Spirit and Tractus Art, please visit https://www.tractusart.com/

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If you are inspired by this work and have an idea for a project that addresses an issue that you are passionate about, we’d like to invite you to submit an application and together we will build a better, more compassionate future! 

If you would like to support the work of more heartivists like this around the world, please visit our donation page and be a part of the change today!

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Under Ms. Sylivia Kyomuhendo’s leadership, the Infants’ Health Foundation has significantly improved maternal and child healthcare in remote Ugandan areas through the project “No mother and child should get sick and die just because they are poor or because they live far from health facilities.” Funded by a 2022 seed grant from The Pollination Project, the initiative provides monthly outreach clinics, motorcycle ambulance services, and community dialogue meetings. These efforts have increased access to antenatal care, vaccinations, and emergency transport, reducing healthcare barriers for low-income families.
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The seed grant has directly impacted approximately 6,000 individuals in Eastern Uganda, enabling the foundation to establish vital healthcare services and secure additional funding and resources. As a result, there has been a notable increase in antenatal check-ups, facility births, and postnatal care, contributing to lower maternal and child mortality rates. Moving forward, the foundation aims to sustain its outreach efforts, enhance team training, and ensure ongoing effectiveness through continuous monitoring and evaluation.

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