By Francis Koroma (YES 2018-2019, Sierra Leone, placed by PAX in West Lafayette, IN)
My YES exchange year was a dream come true. I had a wonderful, fulfilling experience. I made new friends, met and lived with people with a totally different perspectives on life, picked up new ideas, and made many great memories. My experience in the U.S. left a positive impact on my life, unlocking many of my hidden talents, such as leadership, activism, and humanitarianism.
In Sierra Leone, there isn’t much attention paid to students with disabilities. Many are afraid of being rejected by members of the community and fellow students because of their disabilities, which keeps them on the outside of what’s happening in their communities and society. Students with disabilities struggle with the confidence to participate in school curricula when mixed with “normal” kids.
I decided to apply for a Projects for All Grant to help address this because it’s a pressing issue and the community isn’t meeting this need. Though there are nonprofit organizations focused on people with disabilities, their work mostly revolves around donations. I believe empowerment comes from helping people improve their ability to fend and advocate for themselves. Therefore, my team and I designed Stage Eloquence for Students with Disabilities, a project aimed at improving the self-confidence of students with disabilities.
Through the project, my team and I organized two days of training at schools for students with disabilities to teach them self-confidence and stage eloquence. The first session was held on February 25 for 60 at the National School for the Deaf and Dumb in Freetown. The event was held on February 27 at the National School for the Blind at Wilkinson Road in Freetown for 58 blind students. I was particularly impressed by how well the students opened up and handled the English language — all they needed was the self-confidence to do so. The students and school officials expressed their gratitude and appreciation for this project.
We also held a debate competition in which participants engaged in a debate on the rights of people with disabilities. The debate competition served to educate people without disabilities about the needs of people with disabilities and how they should be treated equally. We invited a local organization that works with PWDs, Flying Stars, to speak about the challenges of their work and the prejudice and discrimination they encounter. A total of 40 people attended the debate.
I want to take the opportunity to thank the YES program and my placement organization, PAX, for giving me the opportunity to visit the U.S. and making my stay one of the greatest times of my life. I want to give a big “thank you” to my team, who contributed tirelessly to make the project a success. My deepest gratitude goes to the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, for sponsoring this grants program. You have impacted so many lives all around the world. Much love and keep up the good work.