The woman turning children’s disabilities into super powers
“Disability is not a deficit within the person, but shows up the deficits in our culture and society that does not fully accept, encourage and celebrate humanity, no matter what it looks like. The unique and distinctive abilities of this amazing group of children can act as an inspiration for all of us, to encourage each other.”
Rachel Callander is a presenter, trainer, award winning artist and the author of the Outstanding Book of the Year Award 2015 IPPY New York, Super Power Baby Project. The inspiring photographic book celebrates the lives and unique abilities of 75 children in New Zealand with a chromosomal or generic condition. The book was inspired by Rachel’s personal experience with her late daughter, Evie Amore, who was born with a rare chromosomal condition.
Utilising her skills and passion to help others, Rachel set out on a trip across New Zealand to meet families and photograph other children with chromosomal and genetic conditions to capture the precious moments and beauty in the children.
“Being a professional wedding and portrait photographer, I turned my lens to capture the abilities and personalities of children like Evie.
“I travelled the entire length and breadth of New Zealand, not just Auckland. It was one of the happiest times of my life. I loved being in that space again. I connected quickly and deeply with the families and loved meeting their children.
“The words that accompany the images (in the book) attempt to reflect the conversations we had and the children we met. As you read them you will start to see what we saw, that while every child and family is very distinctive there are consistent themes that emerge; unconditional love, living in the moment, empathy and compassion,” Ms Callander said.
An amazing feature of the book is Rachel’s ability to enable the reader to see the value, potential and beauty of children with disabilities. Rachel is able to provide a different perspective around the mentality of disabilities and give hope to families to celebrate difference and diversity. She calls their unique gifts – super powers.
“It started with something I saw in Evie. I believe she had an electromagnetic sensitivity because every time we went through electric sliding doors or drove under electrical pylons, she’d start crying- it was like a switch went off.
“So I stared saying she had superpowers as a light-hearted way to describe this phenomenon. But then I realised her entire character and the things she was teaching me, and those around her was really profound.
“She had incredible bravery, she expressed happiness with her entire body, and she brought out a depth of love and care in people they hadn’t experienced before. Her fragility and pure joy drew people in,” Ms Callander said.
Through this experience and creating the Super Power Baby Project, Rachel has been able to share her story to support other families in the same or similar position. Rachel has also learnt more about herself and how to live a fulfilling life while managing the grief she feels every day.
“I have learnt that I can carry significant grief and still live a deeply meaningful and happy life.
“Death is not the end – it is a change. But I am really enjoying the growth I have experienced from this project – for myself – and the impact it is having on others. It’s very humbling and beautiful to see that from the hardest of times, such good things can happen,” Ms Callander said.
Rachel’s journey around New Zealand was a trip full of love and laughter, remembering the priceless moments she spent with Evie. Rachel was able to help many families see the beautiful and unique soul of their children and the importance of appreciating every moment together.
“It brought me back to the life I had loved with Evie. I loved being able to connect, often without words. It was very healing to share in the stories and to feel like I was helping to empower the families to speak positively about their children, Ms Callander said.
Looking into the future for the project, Rachel has just printed the second edition of the book but is looking to capture the hearts of many children here in Australia.
“I’d love to do this in Australia. I see so much need for tolerance and understanding, in regards to difference. Interviewing and photographing Australian families from a range of cultures and geographical locations, and presenting the images and stories in a way that celebrates and enables humanity, is something I am very passionate about. Now that I am living in WA, I see a great opportunity to continue the work I started in New Zealand,” Ms Callander said.
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