Roshan Samarawickrama, one of WID’s 2016 fellows, recently developed and launched the ESCAT Senior Citizen Club! The idea for the club was developed while Roshan completed his fellowship with WID through the community Solutions program. The goal was for Roshan to flesh out his idea and implement it back home, which he has successfully done.
The recently launched ESCAT Senior Citizen Club is a member-guided program based in Roshan’s home country of Sri Lanka, in which members exchange ideas and skills with one another, ultimately deciding as a community how they would like their club to function. Previous meetings have included cooking lessons, crafts, and educational presentations; their meeting in late February 2017 included a mobility aid donation drive, in which members with mobility disabilities were given wheelchairs and arm crutches with the help of Disability Organisations Joint Front, a local conglomerate that serves people with disabilities.
We are so proud of Roshan for his hard work and for being a change-maker in the lives of seniors with disabilities in Sri Lanka, and we know he will continue to make us proud. Keep up the good work, Roshan!
I was so excited to hear that I had been selected for the Community Solutions Program, as this was one of my dreams that I had been waiting to come true.
“Hello, Roshan! I am waiting at the baggage collection area to meet you.”
Soon after I disembarked from the aircraft, I received a message from a staff member of my host organization who came to pick me up. I was very happy, as it gave me a feeling that there were already people expecting me. Meeting Charity at the airport gave me a platform where I could start being part of the WID family and become familiar with the California culture. Charity`s meeting as part of my introduction of showing me around, telling me about the WID culture and the places that I can visit was so helpful to me. I kept asking question after question, and she tried her best to answer everything.
My very first day in California ended up with me feeling very happy with an excited mind, ready to start work with my host organization.
“You gonna’ go by BART, and third station you have to get off.”
The landlord told me when I asked how to get to Ashby BART. I was so curious–I had never heard of this sort of transport before. On Monday, August 15, I had my first experience on BART and realized this is what we call a “train” in my country.
At Ashby BART station, there was a lady on a special wheelchair! She was on her OWN–no one accompanied her. She was going faster than I walked. I just stopped and looked at her until she vanished from view. I climbed some steps and walked toward the Ed Robert Campus. In front of me, there was a man with a dog! The dog was so cute and lovely. I sped up a bit and tried to come closer and realized the man was blind. I was thinking while looking at him and the dog from time to time; I walked beside them and waited until the door opened. As I came through the door, there was a group of young people that I could see had disabilities. I went to the Reception Desk to inquire about finding my host organization. From the way the receptionist spoke, it was clear that she has a disability. I started to walk slowly, according to her directions. In a pleasant lobby area, a couple of people were pushing and holding wheelchairs with children with cerebral palsy. A man and a woman both in electric wheelchairs were going along. I just stopped and observed them.
I started to think, “Am I in the right place or in a hospital?”
Thinking through what I had seen, I walked and stopped at Suite 155. The door was shut, and it was obvious that there was no one in side. After talking to someone there, I realized that I was too early. It was 8:15 a.m. I came to know that the office opens at 9 a.m. I was told I could sit in the lobby, where there were lots of parents sitting with their children. It was a great chance for me to observe. I saw many people with disabilities walking here and there on their own, using different accessible equipment. I found that no one stared at them; no one supported them or held them. They were like non-disabled people–so independent. I simply could not see any difference unless they used accessible equipment.
Meeting Kat, my host community supervisor, was my next task. After meeting her, I felt more confident and happy. She gave me a lovely, detailed introduction, which really helped me find my own feet at WID. My very first day at my host organization enabled me to come up with a plan for my work.
I feel privileged to have been placed with WID as my host organization. The entire building is disability-friendly, and there are many service providers that use different approaches to support people with disabilities. Time after time, the meetings I had with Kat really helped me track my progress. They helped me develop a plan to achieve the ultimate goal of my fellowship, and Kat is a person full of ideas. Every meeting I had with her ended with scheduling more meeting appointments. Since she has many responsibilities, talking with her is like having a number of meetings with different people. Kat also helped me develop many human resource management-related documents.
WID has a small team of very committed staff. I found everyone from the Executive Director to the hourly paid staff proactive and very helpful and always keeping their word. With everyone`s support and guidance, I had many appointments with different organizations with a range of expertise in the disability sector. Charity was very helpful and helped familiarize me with the USA’s professional practices.
My first conversation with two directors who have Autism was one of the best meetings I have ever had in my life. Their pronunciation and accents made me hear “Autistic” as “artistic.” Once I knew the proper word, I could not stop laughing and feeling guilty, but the humor created a bond between us. They explained that there are triggers that are overstimulating for them, which explained to me why they work in a dark room. I was simply engrossed with some of their explanations about Autism. I found their ideas and comments very strong and practical, as they was their own experiences and feelings. By the end of the meeting, my weekly planner was filled for three weeks with five more meetings. All the meetings that I had with them inspired me and opened my mind about Autism. They supported me in gaining new knowledge, ideas, and different approaches to work with people with Autism. Not only that, they also enabled me to develop a strategy and a solid plan to work with people in Sri Lanka. I will always feel that if WID did not open this door, I would never have had that opportunity.
Tom, the Deputy Director of WID, is blind, and he took me to various places. I played a new game called Goalball. I visited California’s Muir Woods Monument in the National Park, and I saw how the use of Braille and ramps made the park accessible to everyone. I also had dinner from a food truck, which I was curious to taste. Until I went there with Tom and Kat, I did not realize that it is food sold from trucks. Once I realized the real meaning, I laughed at myself.
Dinner at Tom’s friends’ (Mike and Lucy) place was one of my unforgettable dinners during my fellowship. One lady was cutting vegetables and gave us a warm welcome. When I smiled at her, she did not smile back, but I thought she looked at me and ignored me. It was only later I realized she was blind. I was amazed at the way she cut vegetables and prepared dinner for us, cooking while talking to us all the time. The way she worked did not give a feeling that she could not see. She was so confident. I suddenly thought about blind people in my country. They stay at home and have to live their lives dependent on someone else. The dinner that I had at Lucy`s place taught me how a blind person can be independent.
Every Thursday, I had a 9 a.m. meeting with WID’s Executive Director, Anita. We were both in the same shoes in terms of our work, so she created a platform for me to have more knowledge about organizational management, strategic thinking, and planning. Her graciousness and helpful manner enabled me to open up with her and talk about my work-related issues and problems. After listening to some of the comments and feedback that she gave, I was thinking if only I had received this opportunity before. Every single meeting that I had with Anita not only gave me ideas and new knowledge but also provided me the purpose to think more and explore more about organizational branding in particular. Her endless support enabled me to have meetings with many other directors of different organizations from her professional network.
One meeting even changed my mind and my plan. When I applied to the IREX fellowship program, I had an idea to expand my organizational support by opening another satellite center in another district. After a meeting with one of the Ed Robert Campus partners, I changed my mind and started thinking about designing a project for senior citizens with disabilities. The meeting I had with Center for Independent Living (CIL) enabled me to design a project and raise funds, as well.
The quiet, helpful character, Josephine, was so gracious to everyone in the organization. Her sweet smiles and motherly manner made me feel very welcome in the organization. My formal and informal meetings with Marsha and Alex directed me to think about climate change and disability, and I will never forget the helpful lady, Elizabeth, who supported me in many ways to learn from WID. I found her lesson on photo editing software to be so interesting and helpful.
My four months in the USA, and particularly with WID, provided me with the best knowledge and experience that a person can ever have. I am very thankful to WID, as they opened many doors for me to explore more knowledge. My fellowship and the knowledge and the strength that I received from WID made me more confident than I used to be. So now, it is time to say goodbye with the strong determination of supporting people with disabilities in Sri Lanka and to help them stand on their own feet.
My name is Mauot Anyang. I am a Mandela Washington fellow from South Sudan. There, I work as the Secretary of Education for South Sudan Association of the Visually Impaired (SSAVI), a non-governmental and not-for-profit organization for the blind in South Sudan.
Before I began my fellowship, I wondered how it would feel to be in a place where you don’t know anyone nor does anyone know you; and I thought it would be uncomfortable and difficult. However, after my fellowship placement at the World Institute on Disability, I got the answer, which disputed my previous belief and changed it. This experience was unique, beginning from the friendly environment of the universally designed Ed Roberts Campus where I found people who were ready to share with me all kinds of information to the accommodation of providing me with JAWS on my work computer to mobility orientation.
I had the opportunity, under the auspices of the institute, to meet people and organizations who are actively engaged in all aspects of the disability sector. I was able to learn issues that are new to me, such as climate change and nutrition as they relate to disability. I was also able to strengthen my knowledge of policy advocacy and get in-depth information about the history of the independent living movement in the US. I learned that this movement opened the door for people with disabilities to enjoy rights and freedoms on an equal basis with the rest of society’s members.
On a personal level, I became very independent by using the public transport, such as the buses, the BART train, and Lyft on my own. My appreciation for this goes to the wonderful mobility instructors that were secured for me my first week. I also had the opportunity to take cooking classes. Before these classes, I thought some cooking skills were hard to acquire as a blind person, but now I believe all the skills I learned are attainable. I also had the chance to play Goalball. My team won a match and lost another, but that is the spirit of the sport. Finally, I really enjoyed cultural events in the Bay Area; if I just mention the food trucks and Muir Woods, and you are from the Bay Area, you probably will know what I mean.
I believe my appreciation of this experience will not be limited to my own words, but rather it will be echoed by the people with disabilities in the rural areas of South Sudan, who only enjoy one right, which is the right to live and nothing else. I discovered more rights that I want for my people—rights that none of them has ever experienced, myself included. My hope is for sustainable happiness one day that will include every disabled person in South Sudan; and that by increasing the scale of my advocacy, people with disabilities in my country can enjoy the same rights as in the US. I bear in mind that the path to realize this vision is not always smooth and easy, but I believe in the possibility and the need for its realization now more than ever.
I highly appreciate the supervision from all of the World Institute on Disability’s staff members, who generously allocated their time and gave all the attention necessary to enlighten my way while working to realize my goals.
I can’t mention each contribution from everyone who helped me enjoy my internship, but what everybody has done is highly valued. The simplest thing that I can say is that I felt at home, I gained knowledge, I had fun, and I made friends.
Berkeley, CA, USA–The World Institute on Disability (WID) is proud to partner with IREX and UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy in welcoming this year’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Mandela fellows! In the past, we have hosted Mandela fellows from Liberia, Kenya, the Gambia, Uganda, and Ethiopia, and this year we are excited to host two new fellows from Nigeria and Zimbabwe. It is WID’s mission to eliminate barriers to full social integration and increase employment, economic security, and health care for persons with disabilities in communities and nations worldwide; one of the ways we work toward this goal is by hosting international fellows with disabilities, as well as fellows who are interested in disability advocacy. Our fellows have the opportunity to learn how we promote accessibility and inclusion in the U.S., while WID is able to increase our international understanding of disability.In general, our previous fellows have been interested in entrepreneurial and advocacy efforts surrounding disability and have founded, co-founded, and contributed to important organizations like African Youth with Disabilities Network (AYDN), Disability Rights Promotion International (DRPI), Positive Exposure, and Start Now. Additionally, the work they have done falls all over the disability spectrum, including advocacy for people with visual, neurological, and mobility disabilities. Temitope, one of our current fellows from Nigeria, is supervising a skill-acquisition program for children with disabilities, and he is hoping to make strides towards policy reform that will make a positive and much-needed impact. Feri, our fellow from Zimbabwe, tutors young women in her community and hopes to learn more about disability advocacy in order to make vocational training more inclusive of people with disabilities.
The immense value of the YALI program perhaps lies in mutual edification. While our fellows come here to increase their skill sets, they bring with them an invaluable international perspective which allows us at WID to make our work comprehensive. Because of this, we encourage you to attend the presentations Feri and Temitope will give on the work they are doing in their countries. The presentation will be held on Wednesday, July 13 in the Ed Roberts Campus in Osher B. Attendees are welcome to bring a brown bag lunch. Please, feel free to ask questions and share any information you may have that you believe may be useful to our fellows. We look forward to seeing you there!
Where: Ed Roberts Campus (3075 Adeline Street), Osher B room When: July 13, 2016 from 12:00pm to 1:00pm RSVP (appreciated but not required): Charity Peets at email@example.com or 510-225-6400
In the spirit of Ed Roberts and our other founders, WID engages internationally with people who have disabilities to exchange best practices and support each other in advancing disability rights world-wide.
WID has had the incredible honor of working with some of the world’s most innovative young leaders in the disability rights arena. Over the years, we have accepted fellows from both the the Young African Leadership Initiative (specifically, the Mandela Washington Fellowship Civic Leadership Institute) and the Community Solutions Program.
For many of these international fellows, this is their first time to the United States. We introduce them to disability-focused activities and services that brand new to them; we tour them around our beautiful, universally designed building and introduce them to other tenants who also focus on disability rights. From Goalball and adaptive cycling to hiking and site seeing, WID involves our fellows in all the Bay Area has to offer to ensure that our fellows’ limited time here is enjoyed to the fullest. It is a pleasure and delight to work with these young leaders.
To hear about the experience from the fellows themselves, click the image link below to visit the Words from Our International Fellows page.
Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI)
Beginning in 2014, WID has received some of Africa’s best and brightest through Obama’s Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI). Each summer, WID hosts a handful of young leaders as part of YALI’s flagship program, the Mandela Washington Fellowship Civic Leadership Institute, held at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.
This program is designated to empower young African leaders through academic coursework, leadership, training, mentoring, networking, professional opportunities and support for activities in their communities; WID strives to embody these six pillars and to give each of the fellows a unique and helpful experience. WID is proudly hosts the 1% of YALI fellows who have disabilities.
Check out this video of WID’s Director of Operations Kat Zigmont speaking about YALI at the 2015 WID Annual Report.
Community Solutions Program (CSP)
In 2016, WID also opened its doors to world-class fellows from the Community Solutions Program. This program focuses on professional development for global community leaders who work on transparency and accountability, tolerance and conflict resolution, environmental issues, and women and gender issues. Fellows chosen for this fellowship spend four months in America with a nonprofit organization or government agency. They also take online courses and design follow-up projects to implement when they return to their home countries.
Check out this video we created with our most recent Community Solutions Program fellow, Amrita Gyawali!