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Inclusive tuition offers hope for physically challenged youngsters, as Liu Wei and Cao Pengyuan report for Xinhua China Features.
"My dream is to be a soldier guarding the country," said 13-year-old Yongzhi proudly. Sadly, his dream may never come true because a hereditary limb condition means he is unlikely to grow as tall as his peers.
Yongzhi is one of 18 disabled children at Anding Primary School in Jingdong Yi autonomous county, Yunnan province in Southwest China. He is popular and known for his frequent laughter, but secretly he is scared of being mocked by his able-bodied classmates.
However, since he has joined a photography class, he has gradually become more confident.
A special class
One day at the end of 2016, Yongzhi"s father was told that his son had been selected to join a photography class. He was astonished, as Yongzhi had never even seen a smartphone, still less a camera.
Photography can be difficult for children with physical or mental disabilities. More often than not, they need special instruction and extra tutoring after school.
Liu Yuyang, a freelance photographer who was awarded the Magnum Foundation Human Rights Fellowship in 2014, does not view disability as something that needs fixing. He said all children are born equal, and they are entitled to look for the beauty in life, irrespective of whether they are disadvantaged or not.
Accordingly, he contacted Save the Children, a global NGO that focuses on child development and protection which has successfully piloted inclusive education programs in China for years, and offered to use his expertise to help disabled children.
After two months of preparation, Liu started his class, which included three disabled and three able-bodied children, a perfect model of inclusive education, where the youngsters can learn from each other.
Between January and September last year, the 25-year-old photographer offered the students several sessions, running from two to five days, teaching them about techniques such as photo composition and exposure.
Sometimes the group traveled to the countryside to practice taking photos. Liu also left cameras for his students to use after class to allow them to express their artistic talents freely.
"In addition to normal classes, I organized photo exhibitions and peer reviews to encourage their artistic exchanges," he said.
As an experiment in inclusive education, the class was provided in the spirit of non-exclusion, nondiscrimination and acceptance of all.
"The inclusive photography class was not designed solely for disabled children, but shared with able-bodied kids. In the process, they learned how to participate and share. Sometimes the work could be done only by cooperating－usually one student came up with ideas and the other did the shooting," Liu said.
Yongzhi surprised his teacher with his photographs of elderly women tending sheep, schoolgirls playing basketball and men walking donkeys. His work displayed a balance and harmony between motion and stillness.
Another student, 7-year-old Lu Youlin, took photos of his older brother on a path near their home. Before shooting, he put a flower between his brother"s lips "to make the scene more artistic－a tip from my teacher".