START - the art of success

Founded six years ago, START was an ambitious programme to provide art education for underprivileged children in the region. Director Tanaz Dizadji reveals how it has become a huge success, reaching close to 6,000 children

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.

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