By Safaa Zaki (YES 2015-16, Morocco, hosted by American Councils PO in Chetek, WI)
On October 10, 2019 I landed in Accra, Ghana, thrilled for what seemed as the beginning of a new journey, a journey of advocacy and activism for minorities’ rights. I had the chance to represent Morocco in the Inclusivity Workshop in Ghana, which brought together sixteen passionate alumni from different parts of the world, to develop skills and resources for making the YES program more inclusive of people with disabilities. It was great interacting with the staff and trainers, and getting together with my fellow YES alumni, exchanging our stories, and fruitfully working together through this solution-oriented workshop.
On the opening ceremony, we were happy to meet officials from the U.S. Embassy in Accra who joined us and welcomed us to Ghana. They talked about the work they are doing to advance the rights of people with disabilities in Ghana, and listened to our engagement stories.
The learning I gained from this experience was tremendous. I was introduced to new concepts and approaches through the skill-building sessions we had, such as ‘Systems Thinking’ which is a holistic approach to analyze the different elements of a system, in our case we focused on the different aspects of the YES Program as a system, so as to identify ways to increase accessibility and inclusivity and brainstorm solutions. We also looked into ways to tackle Ableism, which refers to discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities, by allying with them, and unlocking the power of empathy. The agenda was very rich, and the trainers were professional, talented, and inspiring. Over the four days workshop, we discussed disability from different perspectives through various activities that helped us identify our personal model of leadership and informed us on the history of disability in the world. It also taught us the importance of self-advocacy and allyship as a way to shed light on injustices and help to raise awareness and create a change. For this, we were divided into small groups to develop specific solutions to make the YES program more inclusive in the outreach phase, throughout the application process, and within the alumni community, which we presented on the last day.
We also had a session where each country’s representative shared what disability looks like in his/her country. Some countries were doing better than others, passing laws and implementing initiatives, yet the overall situation is not promising and it requires far more effort to be improved.
The workshop had such a genuine humanitarian purpose, and I believe it was met. I felt more inspired than ever before as I worked with alumni with disabilities and heard their personal stories. They are achieving great things, and are blooming even in a society where conditions are limited. They have the potential to add richly to our lives and to add immensely to our world, inclusion is the key.
One thing I am now keeping in mind is that no condition is permanent, that whom you see disabled today, might once have been able-bodied too. So let us all share the responsibility of being allies and an advocates for minorities' rights, because they have a voice that needs to be heard.
To conclude, I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the YES program, and AFS IEP Ghana for giving me this unique opportunity to learn and to grow, and for making the workshop as successful as it was.