Tag Archives: James Holman

A Blind Baker, Beekeeper and Kayaker Unite in San Francisco

Fourteen months ago, LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin proposed a wild new idea: What if we create a prize to fund a blind person to do something ambitious? What if we fund their dreams ahead of time, to get them out in the world leading, creating, exploring and changing the face of blindness rather than simply rewarding them for past achievement?

Turns out dreaming big sometimes pays off, because in January this year we announced the very first Holman Prize for Blind Ambition, an annual set of awards – three in the first year – of up to $25,000 each financing and supporting blind people worldwide in pursuing an ambitious project of their design.

After a rigorous application process including a social media competition, multiple rounds of judging and a detailed project proposal, we found our inaugural Holman Prizewinners, an unlikely trio from vastly different walks of life. The three winners, kayaker Ahmet Ustunel, baker Penny Melville-Brown and beekeeper Ojok Simon each have one-of-a-kind projects that allow them to build and foster social impact in their immediate community.

Read what the San Francisco Chronicle has to say about the inaugural Holman Prizewinners.

This week, we hosted the prizewinners in San Francisco for a full week of trainings, meetings, skill-sharing and fun before they commence their projects starting October 1. It was a busy week, but was more than we could have ever hoped for.

We started out the week by heading to One Market Restaurant, where Penny baked with some of San Francisco’s top pastry chefs, exchanging tips and tricks, learning new methods, and even teaching them a few non-visual techniques. We want to extend a huge thank you to Michael Dellar for opening the restaurant to us and extending himself to give the blindness community such a warm welcome in the food and hospitality world. Watch this video of Penny and Mac folding a peach galette together.

Penny laughs in the One Market Restaurant kitchen with pastry chef Mac while plating a peach galette.
Penny laughs in the One Market Restaurant kitchen with pastry chef Mac while plating a peach galette.
Penny smiles with One Market pastry chefs Mac and Jan, who she just presented with the pewter medals she will give to all her baking partners along her journey.
Penny smiles with One Market pastry chefs Mac and Jan, who she just presented with the pewter medals she will give to all her baking partners along her journey.

Penny is finishing out her American adventure with three more major cooking stops: China Live in San Francisco, Cheeseboard in Berkeley, and Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland. She’s planning lots of updates and videos, which will be coming out weekly starting next week at Baking Blind.

Ahmet Ustunel, who actually lives in the same bustling SF downtown as LightHouse headquarters, was more of a tour guide than visitor this week. He took us to Lowell High School, where he teaches, and gave his fellow prizewinners a tour. Not only did Ahmet introduce us to some of his blind students, but also let Ojok climb up onto the roof of Lowell’s garden shed to investigate the beehive there!

Ojok and Lowell student Ellie show Ahmet the ropes as he feels a beehive box.
Ojok and Lowell student Ellie show Ahmet the ropes as he feels a beehive box.

We’ll be honest: For a minute there, we were a little worried Ojok almost wasn’t going to make here from Uganda due to a passport snafu, but with a lot of faith and a little luck, we welcomed him with open arms on Wednesday afternoon. He wasted no time – and within 12 hours he was running along Ocean beach and talking bees with fellow blind beekeeper Aerial Gilbert.

On Thursday the Holman crew headed over to the Arkansas Friendship Garden on Connecticut Street in the SF hills, where the journalist and author Meredith May keeps an active colony of bees regularly producing honey. Within minutes, Ojok had his hands in the hives – with no gloves, we might add – gently manipulating all the little worker bees without being stung once. At the end of the afternoon, everyone even got to dig their hands into some honeycomb and taste the sweet stuff right out of the hive.

Aerial Gilbert wears a protective hat and examines a wooden beehive frame.
Aerial Gilbert wears a protective hat and examines a wooden beehive frame.
Ojok holds up a beehive in a wooden frame for everyone to examine.
Ojok holds up a beehive in a wooden frame for everyone to examine.
Ojok smiles with his white bee hat and net catching the light, while bees fly around him.
Ojok smiles with his white bee hat and net catching the light, while bees fly around him.

Ojok then produced a small jar of honey that he had brought with him from Uganda, and the group got to taste the difference between the fruity, nectar-like honey of San Francisco’s Italian bees and the smoky, meaty honey made by Ojok’s Africanized “killer” bees. Ojok will return to Uganda next week and begin expanding the Hive Uganda program, which already has 38 blind and low vision sighted beekeepers, to teach honey farming to dozens more over the course of the next year.

On Friday, Ahmet took us out on the water – which, as he’s told us many times, is “his favorite place in the world.” The prizewinners and some documentary filmmakers hopped on a few sailboats with blind sailor Walt Raineri and the Bay Area Association of Disabled Sailors (BAADS), who took them all for a spin around McCovey Cove. Ahmet showed off some prototypes of the system he’ll use to autonomously navigate the Bosphorus Strait in Turkey next year, including directional and depth-sensing tools, all of which provide audible feedback. Learn more about his sonar technology from our livestream. As Ahmet’s project beings, you can follow him on Facebook and Instagram – and keep an eye out for him at your local waterway this fall while he trains for his big crossing, make sure to his page, he is the kind of guy that will buy instagram video views to motivate himself on social media!

Ahmet shows his sonar navigation system to a fellow blind sailor named Ben.
Ahmet shows his sonar navigation system to a fellow blind sailor named Ben.
Ahmet stands up in the boat while preparing to set out to McCovey Cove.
Ahmet stands up in the boat while preparing to set out to McCovey Cove.

If the live-streams, descriptions and photos weren’t enough, don’t worry: We had our cameras and microphones following along with the prizewinners all week long, and we’ll be soon bringing you scenes from the week.

Meet Penny Melville-Brown: Blind Baker and Holman Prizewinner

The LightHouse for the Blind announces Penny Melville-Brown of “Baking Blind” as one of the first three winners of the Holman Prize.

British Royal Navy veteran Penny Melville-Brown is not your average chef. First of all, she is, in fact, blind. But beyond that, Penny has a deep and unique understanding of food’s ability to break down cultural barriers and to connect people – blind and sighted alike – across the globe.

Today, LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco announces Penny as one of three winners of the 2017 Holman Prize for Blind Ambition, a brand-new award for blind adventurers of all kinds.

Penny preps food wearing an apron in the kitchen

“While food is a mainstay across the media and popular culture, it is almost impossible to find any inclusion of visually impaired people,” Penny says.  With her Holman Prize project, Penny hopes to change that.

With the $25,000 Holman Prize, Penny will travel to Costa Rica, Malawi, Australia, China and the United States, all over the course of a year. Along the way, she will meet chefs, teach blind people and community leaders the techniques and panache of blind baking, and film these encounters to ensure that people change their assumptions about the capabilities of blind chefs.

Equal parts travelogue and instructional video series, Penny’s video blog will teach all of us, sighted or otherwise, something new about the art of cooking.

Penny dishes up some food in the kitchen, smilingPenny also has a special connection with the namesake of the Holman Prize, James Holman, a 19th Century world traveler known as the first blind man to circumnavigate the globe. Both became blind while serving in the British Royal Navy (albeit nearly 200 years apart). Now, like Holman, Penny will take off around the world, crossing multiple continents to teach others about the capabilities of those with disabilities.

Penny is one of three inaugural winners of the Holman Prize. Her fellow prizewinners, Ahmet Ustunel and Ojok Simon, hail from the US and Uganda respectively, and also have ambitious adventures planned over a range of geographies and subjects. Ustunel is planning a solo kayak journey from Europe to Asia, while Simon is planning to build out a blind-led social enterprise for beekeepers in Uganda.

They will all meet at the Lighthouse in San Francisco in September.

Penny began hosting and producing regular video segments this year for a program she calls “Baking Blind”. She takes pride in her collaborations, which will only grow with the help of The Holman Prize. A YouTube original, she can be seen in her videos making everything from apple tarts to lamb tajines and quail eggs in soy sauce.

Read about all three Holman Prize winners in-depth.

Holman Honorees: Meet the 2017 finalists.

Meet the blind judges who picked the winners.

Support The Holman Prize

The LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, is actively seeking sponsorships and support for the 2018 Holman Prize, including donations of equipment for the winner’s projects. To offer your support, contact holman@lighthouse-sf.org. Individuals may donate any amount using LightHouse’s secure form. For sponsorship inquiries, email us or call +1 (415) 694-7333.

 

For press inquiries, email press@lighthouse-sf.org.

 

Meet Ojok Simon: Blind Beekeeper and Holman Prizewinner

‘Hive Uganda’ Founder plans to bring honey production and beekeeping training to blind and low vision communities of Uganda.

Imagine tending a beehive – or a whole farm of bees – with hundreds of thousands of buzzing, pollen-loving insects crawling all over you, stingers at the ready. Now imagine doing it blind. Unimaginable for most, this is just a normal day for Ojok Simon.

Today, Ojok became one of the three inaugural winners of the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition – an unprecedented $25,000 award for blind and low vision adventurers offered by the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco.

Ojok, who is in his mid-thirties, lost his vision more than 20 years ago when Ugandan rebels beat him severely and he incurred serious head injuries. Due to a lack of medical attention, his vision quickly deteriorated. Yet he didn’t stop pursuing his education, or later, his passion for beekeeping.

Ojok works outdoors on his bee farm

“I was walking in the bush close to our home, when I found a clay pot with bees and honey inside,” says Ojok. “That became a turning point for me.” Now with more than 100 colonized hives, Ojok has become somewhat of a celebrity in his community – even more so now that he can call himself one of the three first-ever recipients of The Holman Prize.

Intriguingly, centuries before Ojok began cultivating honey, the scientific understanding of beekeeping biology was first worked out by a blind scientist, François Huber, who met blind adventurer James Holman during his world travels in the 19th century.

Ojok’s name was announced today along with two others, Penny Melville-Brown (UK) and Ahmet Ustunel (US by way of Turkey), who represent a wide variety of ambitions and geographical areas, with blindness being the unifying factor. Ojok will use the $25,000 Holman Prize to teach blind and low vision Ugandans to become beekeepers and entrepreneurs as part of his HIVE Uganda program. “I always feel a lot of pain when I see blind and partially sighted people living below the poverty line with limited employment opportunities,” he says.

Ojok siphons honey from a drum into a jar

The award will provide Ojok’s trainees with 60 high quality beehives and the necessary honey extraction equipment, as well as honey harvesting suits, gloves and boots, for a new generation of blind and low vision beekeepers. “I will prove to the whole world that being ‘out of sight’ does not mean ‘out of mind,” says Ojok.

Get to know the other two prizewinners, Penny and Ahmet.

Holman Honorees: Meet the 2017 finalists.

Meet the blind judges who picked the winners.

Support The Holman Prize

The LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, is actively seeking sponsorships and support for the 2018 Holman Prize, including donations of equipment for the winner’s projects. To offer your support, contact holman@lighthouse-sf.org. Individuals may donate any amount using LightHouse’s secure form. For sponsorship inquiries, email us or call +1 (415) 694-7333.

For press inquiries, contact press@lighthouse-sf.org.

This Is What Blind Ambition Looks Like: Announcing the 2017 Holman Prize Semifinalists

In January we announced the inaugural Holman Prize for Blind Ambition, an annual set of awards of up to $25,000 that finance and support blind people worldwide in pursuing their most ambitious projects. All applicants were met with a challenge in the first round: create a 90-second video to sum up a project of their choice and promote it through social media to garner widespread support. 

Between January and March, we received more than 200 video pitches from 28 countries on six continents. Projects ranged in focus across travel, activism, scholarship, craft, sport and much more. Our candidates’ pitches were viewed more than 65,000 times on YouTube: that’s thousands of people watching videos that chip away at stereotypes of blindness and offer a multifaceted view into the wide ranging and one-of-a-kind ambitions of blind people worldwide.

Seeing the range, scope and heart of our applicants’ videos was a joy, and their ideas blew us away. Deciding on a list of semifinalists proved to be difficult for our team, but we narrowed it down to 51 projects of all kinds from around the world.

Here is the list of semifinalists for the 2017 Holman Prize. In June, their proposals will be reviewed by LightHouse’s prestigious Holman Committee — comprised of highly accomplished blind men and women from around the world.

Click on each name to watch their original pitch video (or peruse our YouTube playlist), share, and spread the word: This is what blind ambition looks like.


Iman (California) wants to make a “reality TV”-style documentary about the lives of blind people.

Saghatel (Armenia) wants to develop his conflict resolution program in the Middle East.

Dan B. (Colorado) wants to complete an endurance run along the Great Wall of China.

James (Tennessee) wants to provide white canes to blind people in developing countries.

Joshua B. (Louisiana) wants to bring Braille training to Kyrgyzstan.

John (Texas) wants to establish an art gallery for visually impaired artists.

Georgie (United Kindom) wants to paint the Seven Modern Wonders of the World.

Melanie (Australia) wants to learn to dogsled, ice-climb and ski across Alaska.

Jack & Dan (New Jersey) want to ride across America nonstop with four blind cyclists.

Peggy (New Mexico) wants to illuminate the lives of blind people in American history.

Arne (Denmark) wants to ski to the North Pole.

Christina (California) wants to make a musical theater pilgrimage around the world.

Angela Denise (California) wants to build community with her ukulele from Hawaii to Australia.

Brett (Manitoba, Canada) wants to expand his public good clothing brand, The Blind Kid.

Muttasim (Sudan) wants to return to his birthplace in Sudan to become a catalyst for change.

Ioana (Montreal, Canada) wants to transcribe, record and perform classical guitar globally.

Natalie (California) wants to produce a new R&B album called “Blindsided.”

Riikka (Finland) wants to launch a one-year training program for aspiring singers.

Nicole (California) wants to travel around America and gather stories.

Jennifer (California) wants to develop a tactile-audio graphic novel called “Beulah.”

Caroline (Malawi) wants to provide better accessibility for blind students in her country.

Yves (Switzerland) wants to improve access to zoology education – specifically, penguins.

Marty (New York) wants to produce a documentary about discrimination against people with disabilities in the military.

Mirjana (Sweden) wants to trek through the mountains with a film crew.

Abigail (New York) wants to produce a podcast about disability culture.

Antonio (Philippines) wants to train blind people to become radio operators.

Felipe (Brazil) wants to further his political career, eventually becoming Brazil’s first blind president.

Alex L. (Minnesota) wants to teach ballroom, latin and swing dance to blind people around the U.S.

Rachel (Colorado) wants to document her world travels in a video series called “The Unseen Traveler.”

Dan M. (Michigan) wants to skateboard around the world and connect with blindness organizations along the way.

Linn (Norway) wants to record her debut album with friends in the Nigerian Afrobeat scene.

Penny (England) wants to expand her video blog, “Baking Blind,” to include travel, promotion and guests.

Graham (California) wants to go on a solo singer-songwriter tour, performing across the U.S. and UK.

Laura (California) wants to publish a tactile children’s book called “The Adventures of Penny the Guide Dog.”

Nino & Marie (Michigan) want to ride tandem bikes from France to Romania.

Dan P. (Georgia) wants to build a car to go 225 miles per hour — becoming “the world’s fastest blind man.”

Boonsiri (Thailand) wants to establish the Mae Sot Blind Centre for Children in Thailand.

Den (California) wants to follow in James Holman’s footsteps and circumnavigate the globe.

Serena (California) wants to study the art of making and roasting coffee and open a blind-run coffee shop.

Jamie (Colorado) wants to lead blind students in designing and creating balloon payloads to launch into space.

Alex S. (United Kingdom) wants to assemble a blind crew for a transatlantic sailing trip.

Jana S. (Indiana) wants to produce audio portraits of the U.S. National Parks.

Kaiti (Ohio) wants to start her own music therapy practice.

Ojok (Uganda) wants to teach blind people to be keep bees and sell their honey as a source of income.

Chandni (London) wants to work with exercise instructors to make fitness classes accessible to the blind.

Gary (Canada) wants to finance a Eurotrip for the Canadian Blind Hockey team to drum up support for the sport.

Penn (Colorado) wants to establish a four-day adventure camp for blind youths.

Deon (California) wants to travel and photograph guide dogs and their human masters for a coffee table book.

Ahmet (California) wants to kayak across the Bosphorus Strait between Turkey and Asia.

Poonam (India) wants to solo travel the world on public transportation and see who she meets along the way.

Christopher V. (South Africa) wants to take an eight-month expedition through the Mediterranean.


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