by April Reed
I traveled to Madagascar through the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders 2016 Reciprocal Exchange Program to work with mentee, Holiniaina, Holi for short, to create a peer mentoring program for her country.
I found a disability community open to peer support and a community that understands and wants to address the challenges their people are facing. I was excited when these leaders wanted to discuss coalition building and how they could work together in community advocacy efforts.
It was a privilege to work with Holi and to host the training for her MERCI staff. Holi is a dynamic, passionate leader for her staff and community; I know that MERCI will be a great host for the Peer Mentor Program.
After the Peer Mentor training, Holi got a call from one of the ladies who attended and is blind. This newly-trained mentor described reaching out to a lady in her neighborhood whom she had just heard was losing her sight. She approached the women as a mentor and asked if she would like to talk. This new mentor actually brought the lady to the final meeting Holi and I held at a Women’s Group. The new mentor was thrilled that she could offer help and the mentee told us that she had been so scared and did not know that there were programs for people who were blind. So that was our first mentoring match!
The community meetings/tours Holi arranged for me gave me a better understanding of the challenges and sheer determination that these administrators, teacher and rehabilitation hospital workers provide to support people with disabilities. At times, I was overwhelmed by the great need, but always appreciative of the resilience of the people and most of all convinced of the opportunity Madagascar has for real change. I look forward to continuing to mentor Holi and MERCI and I am excited to see what they will do next.
by Sarah Olson
I traveled to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe to work with Nyasha, my Mandela mentee to help create and implement sport clinics for youth with disabilities. Ability360 supplied his program with equipment for the clinics including basketballs, volleyballs, tennis racquets, tennis balls and colored jerseys.
The impact that sports has played in my own life is significant. Through sports I met lifelong friends and learned discipline and dedication. I was able to apply that discipline and dedication to my studies, career and my life. Traveling to Zimbabwe to share my passion for sports and for people with disabilities and being able to create similar opportunities through sports for youth in Bulawayo was nothing short of amazing.
I met Alwandee, a young lady entering fifth grade and the only female participant we had at the clinic. She started off very shy and didn’t say much, through her interactions with the coaches and other participants she left with an enormous smile that could light up the space. Her spirit exemplified why I chose this career and confirmed that my work in Zimbabwe was successful. Overall, the participants were wonderful. The older kids did a great job including the younger kids and helping them learn the games and have fun. This is a great step to guide the older kids to become peer mentors. We haven’t heard the last from Nyasha. Ability360 remains committed to Nyasha and his programs to ensure youth with disabilities in Bulawayo have an opportunity for sport and recreation.
This exchange has impacted the way I think and approach helping those that do not live in the same area, but want to accomplish the same goals. While I may not be able to assist with equipment or monetary donations, I can still assist them by sharing my knowledge and passion for people with disabilities. Together we can make a better and brighter future for everyone.