Professional Exchange: A Catalyst for Change

A young woman using a bright red wheelchair smiles at the camera.
Gohar Navasardyan attends a reception hosted by the U.S. Ambassador in Armenia.
How one woman in Armenia is using her professional exchange experience to bring change to her country by advancing disability rights through the power of sports.

Gohar Navasardyan is the only female athlete playing with the Pyunic Center for the Disabled’s wheelchair basketball team. She powers her chair across the court with strength and grace, as she does when she’s on the dance stage. Armenia doesn’t yet have a women’s wheelchair basketball team, but there is momentum to create new sport opportunities for people with disabilities across the nation, fueled by MIUSA’s U.S. Department of State sponsored Sports for Success professional exchange program.

As one of 10 professionals in the Armenian delegation, Gohar came to the U.S. to learn about disability inclusion and American culture, and returned to Armenia full of new ideas and strategies.

“I gained a lot of technical knowledge and learned how it is possible to adapt sports, gyms and the city in general to be accessible for people with disabilities. Seeing how people with disabilities, especially women with disabilities, are involved in sports and live active lives, [motivated me to] pass on that experience to the women I know and encourage them to go in for sports actively.”

Since her return home, Gohar is leveraging connections through her work as a 911 service operator through the Ministry of Emergency Situations that employees many people with disabilities in the capital city of Yerevan. Recently she met with Ministry representatives to discuss collaborative plans to make sports and recreational opportunities more accessible for her disabled colleagues and other community members with disabilities. As a result, a new wheelchair basketball team is being established with NGO members, including women with disabilities, and Gohar is preparing for their first series of basketball practices.

Armed with connections to U.S. counterparts and with practical resources on adapting sports, programs, and facilities to be accessible and inclusive, Gohar and her Armenian colleagues have pledged to work as a team, collaborating with one other, the U.S. Embassy, their government, and civil society organizations. Their goal is clear: to be the generation that achieves disability inclusion in their country.

Each year international exchange brings new perspectives, strategies, connections, and renewed energy to professionals across the world working in various fields. Wondering where to get started? MIUSA offers resources and guidance to people with disabilities interested to participate in meaningful overseas experiences. To learn more browse our Related Resources on Planning Your Travel Abroad.

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