YES is highlighting an alum from each year of the program.
By Prince Obed-Balika (YES 2015-16, Ghana, placed by AFS-USA in St. Louis, MO)
In March, I received an email confirming me as an Access to Exchange extern with Mobility International USA and the U.S. Department of State’s National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange (NCDE). An NCDE extern is an exchange alumni who promotes the accessibility of exchange programs to persons with disabilities by engaging in virtual outreach in their community. The externship offered a practical learning experience and enabled me to acquire leadership skills and expertise and knowledge on disability and accessibility.
The externship lasted from March to May, and by the end, I had learned to plan, develop, and execute a unique outreach project and explore a potential interest in an international education career. It reaffirmed my interest in International Human Rights law.
The project I was assigned as an NCDE extern was to conduct an outreach activity in my disability community, open to foreigners, to encourage persons with disabilities in Ghana to participate in study and volunteer activities.
My presentation, “International Exchange Programs and Volunteerism: Promoting International Study Programs among Persons with Disabilities”, took place on May 21st via Zoom. A sign language interpreter and CART service were provided to ensure that the presentation was accessible to people with disabilities (PWDs).
The invited speakers discussed their exchange experiences and the accommodations that were available to them during their respective exchange years. We then outlined the avenues and opportunities available for persons with disabilities to participate in exchange opportunities and volunteer activities abroad and concluded with a brief discussion on disability rights and a Q&A session.
I was assisted by YES alumnus Joseph “PJ” Oppong. As a person with a physical disability, he had a lot of insights and contributions on the topic. He addressed how exchange programs teach persons with disabilities independence and self-reliance. He mentioned how he was taught to swim for the first time by his host parents and how, as an alumnus, he launched a swimming project at the University of Ghana pool for persons with disabilities.
Despite some technological hurdles, it was quite a successful presentation. Participants commented, “Those were powerful words”, “Thank you for organizing such an eye-opening program”, “Disability is not inability. Good job guys.”
The entire process was empowering for me and the participants. My experiences on the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program were put to good use. As a result of the numerous presentations I delivered during my exchange year in the U.S., and the leadership opportunities I had partaken in, I was able to communicate efficiently and confidently address whatever questions the participants had. Because of our participation in the YES program, Joseph Oppong and I were able to share first-hand experiences of exchange programs and their benefits.
I hope to continue to innovate and participate in programs and activities that seek to bridge the gap between disabilities and exchange programs. I am already in talks with some alumni with disabilities to make this outreach a yearly activity. Hopefully it will be sustainable. It would be nice to be able to get more speakers and increase our reach across Ghana and the entire continent of Africa.