Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Stu shares his experience in the Inclusion Project...

I didn’t know what to expect before I came to Bolivia to help with International Service's Inclusion Program. It was a great 'unknown', unreachable through complete lack of reference. I would purposefully try not to fantasize as to what it would be like, to experience it with fresh eyes. Now I am here I feel as if I have always known it.
Perhaps it is the people. My experience thus far has been one in which I have been welcomed wholeheartedly – from my kind and generous host family and the individuals I am working with day-to-day in the office (both Bolivian and British), to my new friends on the Best Buddies program with whom I was I was lucky enough to share a weekend in the Andes, three days ago. I feel truly at home and welcome here, and although it has only been just over one week since I arrived, assimilation is well under way. There is a sense of family and community here that the Brits would do well to look at.
Even at this point, there have been so many experiences and revelations; there is no real obvious place from which to start. The crazy (yet ironically very safe) driving.  The sublime, awe-inspiring scenery. The melting pot of various cultures (already I have been lucky enough to witness two parades and an Afroboilivan drumming band). The disproportionate distribution of wealth (unfortunately, poverty and exploitation pervades throughout the globe and like Coca-Cola, can be found in every major city). And of course a fervor around politics which puts the British public to shame. These are just a few of the things I have come across so far and there is undoubtedly much more which I will come across during my stay here.

Again, in regards to the Inclusion Program, despite having worked with people with disabilities folk in the past I was unsure as to what it was we'actually be doing – the closer I would come to departing, the more evasive the task ahead became. After countless friends and families who had been good enough to support me (again, I can’t thank you all enough) repeatedly enquired, my response of "I’m going to Bolivia to help individuals with disabilities and others whose rights have been marginalized” soon became, to a degree meaningless – somewhat of a platitude, said so many times that it no longer had semantic value but instead became simply a collection of vowels and consonants. After arriving and learning about all the various programs and groups we would be working with I was blown away; there is a truly great need for organizations like International Service and my previous state of unsureness and uncertainty has been replaced with one of determination.
 First hand, we have heard the stories of those whose rights have been inhibited. During our weekend away, our first exercise was to run through all of the rights of people with disabilities should have; the right to work, the right to have loving relationships, the right to an education and more. Yet time and time again, the Buddies recalled instances in which their rights were prohibited, when they had been excluded, or when they had been prevented from exercising their liberties. Disability rights are built into the Bolivian constitution, yet at this moment in time this seems to be simply a token gesture. This is a major part of what we are trying to achieve – a universal recognition that everybody has rights regardless of their ability or disability, and a rejection of the exclusive attitude that societies, worldwide, seem to adopt. We will do this with the Best Buddies through reaching out to the Bolivian public via radio, TV, and the press this coming month (which is disability awareness month in Bolivia) and working with the Buddies themselves through a series of workshops to ensure that their rightful place in society is actualized, by themselves. We will of course also be working with a plethora of other organizations, however I am yet to experience these and I am sure their goals and methods will be outlined in blogs yet to come.

Of course, we have had a mighty amount of fun. We've played lots of games, we've laughed, we've danced & sung. Importantly however, I have met some of the most inspiring people I have come across; whose internal strength, resilience, and smiles in the face of just plain unfairness, puts many people I know (including myself) to shame.
I have spent just over one week in Bolivia and already it has opened up my worldview and changed me greatly. I don’t know how the following 11 will pan out, but I look forward to it with an open mind, open heart and willingness to grow.

Want to be in Stu's position in January? Apply by the 16th October.

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