By: Fatima Zahra El Adraoui (YES 2016-2017, hosted by Ayusa in Fort Worth, TX)
Who could have thought that a blind girl from Morocco would travel to the United States, and less than two years afterwards, win the national prize in debate and dictation in English? Yet that’s exactly my story.
Since I was a little girl, I always dreamed of making a change within the blind community in Morocco. My big dream began to take shape in real life when I applied for the YES program, but I had no idea that I would be accepted to such a highly competitive program. I was placed in Fort Worth, Texas by AYUSA, and I owe my placement organization so much for how they made my experience the best it could be.
My host family was amazing, and thanks to them, my dream became an achievable goal. I learned from them, and they encouraged me to join the chess and debate clubs in my high school. I saw this as an opportunity to learn skills that I can share with my peers back home, and I got to explore my options for higher education. I also worked on learning about my interest in accessibility to information online for blind students in Morocco.
Fast forward to the year 2019, when my teacher, Mrs. Hafid, announced that a debate competition was taking place that afternoon for the first time in Morocco. I hesitated at first but she was confident in me, and I passed both the local and regional trials. I was selected among 12 other participants across Morocco. We were 144 students total, representing multiple languages including Arabic, Tamazight, French, and English, and with ages ranging from elementary school to high school. The final competition took place on May 2nd in Agadir, and even in my biggest dreams I didn’t expect to be called to the stage with the national winners the following day.
Our YES re-entry orientations taught us that the YES program begins when we are back home - now I understand the truth of those words. After my experience in the United States, I see that there is a lot that has to be done to make the work place and schools inclusive for the blind. As an alumna, it’s my duty to give back to my community and lead it to a greater success; this award is my first step to becoming an activist for people with disabilities. My journey won’t be easy, but I have to try to make my childhood dream come true.