My acceptance to Mobility International USA’s 4th Women’s’ Institute on Leadership and Disability Program 2008 thrilled me! I felt proud that MIUSA would take a chance on me to participate in this program. Both academically and socially, I was unsure of what stood before me…because America is a place I had never been. This thought was somewhat intimidating for me at first; but I realized that I would be with 26 other women in the same boat. I relaxed and instead became very anxious…I could not wait to see Eugene, make new friends, meet my facilitators, and set to work.
I had a fabulous time being in a different country, re-evaluating my leadership capabilities, meeting and interacting with other women leaders with disabilities from different cultures and backgrounds. This not only challenged the way I identified myself as an individual, but also challenged the way I saw other people and my outlook towards figurative national boundaries.
I was elated about the idea of living with a host family. This experience though short-lived, was a great opportunity to immerse myself into the Eugene area, learning and observing the American people and their customs. I was particularly impressed by the fact that my host Dad helped much in the Kitchen. He once said to me, “I ought to be a Ugandan house wife. What do you think?” I thought that was hilarious!!!
On leadership training, our facilitators were very inviting when it came to various thoughts and opinions thereby enhancing group participation and team building. Also, the WILD Sisters were generally open-minded, friendly, and willing to talk about even the most controversial of subjects in a positive and productive way. We shared the passion to initiate positive changes for women with disabilities in each our communities; we shared many common problems and learned some good practices from one another. I was encouraged by the energy that was displayed by each delegate as we went through our respective projects. These women were such a huge inspiration for me. I learned something from each one of them.
I took time to do different things. I tried different types of foods and I was curious to learn from each delegate what their individual aspirations were. My efforts at really getting to know my roommate were almost frustrated because we didn’t speak the same language and there was no interpreter. This made doing even the simplest tasks around the room a challenge. At first I felt like I was an alien who had just landed in some different universe but as time went on, I began to pick-up some survival Spanish phrases. For obvious reasons, one phrase that was most uttered by me was “no comprender” (which means...” I don’t understand”). My Spanish speaking colleagues thought it was funny and they laughed about it all the time…I was never offended…instead, I shared the humor because I knew that they were just appreciative that a foreigner was attempting to speak their language. As such, I made lasting friends and I felt good in my surroundings!
The language barrier experience in itself opened my eyes and conscience to such needs like Sign Language, Large Print, Braille and Tactile. I understood first-hand the frustration that persons with hearing and sight impairments go through when information is not presented to them in accessible formats. This not only made me realize that there is still so much more to do with regard to disability rights activism in Uganda; but it also made me a well-rounded person considering that this is something that can be brought to any setting, academic or professional.
People say that participating in international exchange programs is a life changing experience, and they're right! If you ask me, the WILD Program is something I would not hesitate doing again; because it is a great way to make friends, connect with resource people and expand one’s horizons through networking and travel. While at the same time acquiring leadership training; something to add to one’s resume’.
Personally, I feel like as if a whole new world has been opened up to me. I now have a new family in America and friends in all the 5 continents. I have seen places and participated in fun activities that I couldn't have imagined in my dreams.
To the MUISA Team, Wal-Mart Stores and all who made my participation in the WILD Program possible, you make a difference in this world…just by being in it. Mwebale nyo! (which means…Thank you very much). www.miusa.org