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Tanaz Dizadji Provides Art Education Via START

When Tanaz Dizadji was just thirteen years old, her art teacher gave her the bad news. “She said I wasn’t patient enough. I was more keen on math.” As it turned out, her teacher proved to be both right and wrong. Dizadji went on to become a hugely successful chartered accountant in the UK, before ditching it all three years ago to take over as director of START. “I’ve never looked back,” she says. Patience right now is a key part of Dizadji’s life. Established by partners Art Dubai and the Al Madad Foundation in 2007, START provides art education for over 1,000 underprivileged children every week across Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, India and the UAE. Practising artists, art professionals, art students and non-art professionals are given the opportunity to be part of an art education programme through teaching or mentoring children with special needs or those who live under difficult social circumstances. So far it has been a huge success, with close to 6,000 children reached since the programme was launched.
And it’s a busy schedule — 20 workshops a month are held in the UAE, 40 in Jordan, 36 in Lebanon, 32 in Palestine and sixteen in India. On top of that, START has launched three special scholarships to help develop underpriviledged children in the workplace. “This is not a case of let’s do art and make you happy. This is about helping children connect. We use art as a therapy to connect with kids. It’s about creativity, and giving them something to work with as they develop. We [have] given them exposure to different cultures,” says Dizadji, who travels to most of the camps at least once a month. “The best reward for me is seeing them grow up. Some of these kids were just eight when we started working with them and now they are thirteen. They are now even mentoring other kids themselves,” she says.One of the most remarkable aspects of START is how it has branched out from initially running workshops into providing full scale scholarships. Since 2011, three different ones have been provided. In the UAE, START provides a one-year scholarship programme to encourage motivated and talented children with special needs in the UAE to pursue their passion for the arts. The START awardee is mentored by artists and interns at prestigious galleries in the region, visits the START House in Jordan and participates as a volunteer at START Workshops. In Jordan, START provides a three-year scholarship programme to enable and support motivated and talented disadvantaged children in Jordan, to develop their skills and creativity and give them the opportunity to achieve higher qualifications in the arts. Access to higher education is limited for many refugees because of their difficult socio-economic situation. Therefore, the START Scholarship Programme provides financial support for university tuition fees, accommodation and subsistence costs. Awards are given according to artistic and academic merit. A third scholarship was recently added for a child to attend the The Dubai Autism Centre. None of this is cheap — but again, Dizadji has been behind the hugely successful fundraising events to finance these programmes. Its annual Royal Gala dinner, held last month in Dubai, saw a record $1.1m raised through a charity auction.

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