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Words from Our International Fellows

WID has had the incredible honor of working with some of the world’s most innovative young leaders in the disability rights arena. This page highlights our fellows from 2015 onward. To hear about the experience in the fellows’ own words, continue reading.

Amrita Gyawali

2018 Long-Term CSP Fellow from Nepal
During her time at WID, Amrita worked with WID staff to make 2 PSAs. Watch both below!

PSA #1: Independent Amrita

PSA #2: Employment Matters for Everyone

Roshan Samarawickrama

2016 Long-Term CSP Fellow from Sri Lanka

Mauot Anyang

2016 Long-Term YALI Fellow from South Sudan

Feri Gwata and Temitope Okupe

2016 Short-Term YALI Fellows from Zimbabwe (Feri) and Nigeria (Temitope)

Alieu Jaiteh

2015 Long-Term YALI Fellow from The Gambia
Video interview below:

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Long-Term 2016 International Fellows Present on Disability

On September 1, 2016, WID’s long-term 2016 international fellows, Mauot Anyang (YALI) and Roshan Samarawickrama (CSP), presented on the disability work they are doing in their countries. It was a lively and informative session, which exemplified the vast differences between approaches to disability in the US and abroad. Fellows expressed, as WID has observe in all of our international fellows, a desire to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities in their home countries.

Roshan, our Sri Lankan fellow, presented on Equality-based Community  Support And Training (ESCAT), the organization for which he is Program Director in Sri Lanka, which focuses on children with disabilities. ESCAT does several great things for kids with disabilities, such as providing speech and language therapy and facilitating skill-acquisition like basic literacy and handicraft-making.

A young man gesters in front of a crowd, a PowerPoint behind him
Roshan’s presentation | Photo by WID

Mauot, our South Sudanese fellow, presented on the work he is doing as the Secretary of Education for South Sudan Union for Persons with Disabilities (SSUPD). There, Mauot focuses on advocating for inclusive learning environments and sign language and Braille inclusion in schools.

A young man sits before a crowd and talks into a microphone
Mauot’s presentation | Photo by WID

Below are Roshan’s and Mauot’s full presentations in PDF and PowerPoint formats. Please, take a moment to read them in full; if you have any questions or would like to get in touch with either Mauot or Roshan to find out how you can support them, please email charity@wid.org.

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Mauot Anyang’s Farewell Blog

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.

A woman and a man stand at a counter in aprons
Mauot at a cooking class | Photo by Roshan Samarawickrama

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.

A man reaches out to touch small trees; a woman beside him guides his touch
Mauot feels the tactile map at Muir Woods in San Francisco | Photo by Roshan Samarawickrama

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.

A man smiles, a chocolate cake on the table in front of him
Mauot says goodbye | Photo by WID

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Two young people present a PowerPoint and address a crowded room

Short-Term 2016 YALI Fellows Reflect on Time at WID

It has been an exciting and educational experience hosting our short-term fellows from the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) program another year. We had two motivated and ambitious fellows who arrived driven to learn about disability inclusion, advocacy and how to change and implement policies to better their organizations and their countries at large.

Our fellow from Zimbabwe, Feri Gwata, works in the water and sanitation sector as a Partnerships Officer back home, and she came curious to learn how to bring disability awareness and inclusion to her organization. Our other fellow, Temitope Okupe works with children with disabilities in Nigeria. He was fired up about changing policies and increasing disability empowerment and advocacy.

Please, see the letters written to WID’s Executive Director about their experiences and what they learned below:

A young woman stands before a projector, her PowerPoint on the screen
Feri presents to the Goldman School of Public Policy | Photo credit to Charity Peets

Dear Anita,

Thank you very much for affording me the opportunity to participate in the YALI Fellowship at the World Institute on Disability (WID). Thanks are also due to Sudha Shetty, Assistant Dean for International Partnerships and Alliances at the Goldman School of Public Policy for facilitating my placement at WID. It has been a great pleasure meeting the dedicated staff at WID and learning about their first-hand experiences with disability through our many insightful discussions.

Admittedly, given my professional background in economics and water and sanitation, my understanding of the challenges facing people with disabilities was extremely limited prior to my experience at WID. My narrow view was compounded by the sad reality that disability continues to face extreme stigmatization in Africa, so much so that until my time at WID, I had never met a person with a disability who is employed in a formal work environment. It was interesting to note the inclusive participation of persons with disabilities in day-to-day life here in the U.S., as we got to interact with several other professionals (many with disabilities) from the different organizations housed at the Ed Roberts Campus.

Recognizing the importance of achieving universal access to water and sanitation as reiterated in the Sustainable Development Goals, the organization I work for back in my home country (the Institute of Water and Sanitation Development – IWSD) has embarked on a strong drive to mainstream disability in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). To that end, I was particularly keen to understand the specific needs of persons with disabilities in accessing WASH services, how to effectively advocate for inclusive WASH in my home country and how best to engage various stakeholders on the issue.

Below are a few of my key takeaways from my experience at WID (and more broadly, the ED Roberts Campus):

  • Ensuring people with disabilities have physical access is a fundamental starting point in improving their quality of life. While it is undoubtedly important to create employment for people with disabilities and provide in other ways, it is a futile exercise if they do not even have the means to get themselves out of the house or to their places of work.
  • Advocacy: I learned about the critical role of research as a source of evidence in lobbying policy-makers for change. In spite of my professional experience, I had been of the somewhat naïve view that “strong emotions” were a sufficient tool in pushing for change. My host, Kat Zigmont, explained at length the importance of conducting extensive research to inform whatever position I bring to the table. This was very instructive.
  • I also learned that change in the policy framework is incremental, and therefore, while tenacity is critical, it is important to be patient with the process, as it normally takes time (years) to amend or develop policies.
  • Coalition building is critical and in particular, cross-disability coalitions, to foster greater bargaining power with policy-makers. In addition, it is important to offer policy-makers possible solutions to the issue to avoid being viewed as though you are complaining but rather that you are trying to assist them in addressing particular gaps.
  • Identify and educate a policy champion i.e. someone who has the authority to assist you to push your policy changes through.

Thank you very much for all your support and guidance during my time at WID.

I trust that this is the beginning of a long working relationship.

Best wishes,
Feri Gwata

Mandela Washington Fellow 2016
Goldman School of Public Policy
University of California, Berkeley


A young man addresses the room, his PowerPoint presentation behind him on a screen
Temi discusses disability stats in his home country | Photo credit to Charity Peets

Dear Anita,

It has been wonderful being here at the World Institute on Disability (WID) for my fellowship. I had a wonderful experience, and also, thank you all for sharing your resources and talent with me during the process of my fellowship.

I realize a lot of issues are being addressed on people living with disabilities in different ways. I will be able to highlight some issues I learned during my 4 weeks (once a week fellowship) at WID. The first that I will discuss is the amazing building and the location of the building; to some it’s just a building. To me, it’s a home–a building that brings everyone living with disabilities (us) together as a big family.

One major focus at WID that caught my attention was how climate change affects people with disabilities, which varies in different aspects due to different geo-political zones; also, the issues involving climate change in terms of different strategies that can be adapted in different locations caught my attention. For example, in Nigeria, we discussed how planting trees impacts climate change, and there has also been some discussion around how people with disabilities may have to migrate when there are natural disasters.

At WID during the fellowship, I had an opportunity to visit various organizations at the Ed Roberts campus, such as Through the Looking Glass, which gave me a reflection on bringing parents and families with children living with disabilities together to form a collective voice.

Another aspect learned during my stay at WID is how research is necessary to know how effective disability laws are or not, what can be done through awareness and how policies are formulated. Talking to Neil Jacobson at WID gave me a broader idea of how to empower people living with disabilities. It gave me the understanding that when working with an NGO, we should not be afraid of putting on our thinking hats to make money for ourselves. Creating awareness through advocacy was also one of the issues discussed.

During my program at Goldman School of Public Policy, I was able to understand how to make policy and take steps that should be put into consideration, such as:

  • Defining the problem,
  • Gathering your evidence,
  • Identifying the cost,
  • Evaluating the existing policy ,
  • Developing solutions,
  • Weighing benefits and costs,
  • Selecting the best solution,
  • Observing political strategies, and
  • Remembering the importance of evaluation after making the policies, which could be within 6 years to 1 year and continuous evaluation.

Branding is one of the things I learned from Goldman; coming from a business background, I used to think branding is all about advertising a product in a specific way, but at Goldman, I realized there are various steps that make a good brand, such as being original, identifying your target market etc. This made me understand that advertising is the last medium when it comes to the branding process, and costs and benefits should be considered in this process, as well. I also gained a brief understanding about strategic planning, as well as equality in employment; this process makes organizations and co-workers understand that people are the same, despite things like their race, sexual orientation or disabilities, which helps promote equality.

Temitope Okupe

Mandela Washington Fellow 2016
Goldman School of Public Policy
University of California, Berkeley

Three people stand in front of a plaque that says, "International House"
Feri, Temi, and Projects Coordinator, Charity, stand in front of Berkeley’s International House before a presentation

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WID Hosts Summer 2016 YALI Mandela Fellows

For Immediate Release

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.YALI logoIn 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.

Headshots of WID's two summer 2016
Temitope, left, and Feri, right

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 charity@wid.org or 510-225-6400

Read our flyer for more information: Mandela Fellows Presentation Invitation (PDF)

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International Fellowships banner

International Fellowships

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.

Words from our international fellows button

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!

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