Building Connections to Find Solutions

Jagoda on Capitol Hill with others
Jagoda (left, front) and other Humphrey Fellows demonstrate on Capitol Hill
Visiting professional Jagoda Risteska will use her experiences in the U.S. to empower women with disabilities in Macedonia.

For Jagoda Risteska, the true measure of success is “to enrich someone else’s life in a way that you never remain the same.” From that perspective, the disability advocate reflected that her U.S. fellowship has been very successful.

Jagoda left her home of Macedonia and the organization which she co-founded, Mobility Challenge, to complete a four-month fellowship with the U.S. International Council on Disabilities in Washington, D.C. through the Community Solutions Program. During her time in the U.S., she valued the opportunity to network and share insights with other professionals, building on experiences she had gained years earlier as a participant of MIUSA’s WILD exchange program.

“I got in touch with other women with disabilities, leaders in different organizations and disability activists. I also worked to increase my knowledge of training for bus operators and passengers with disabilities. For that purpose, I had meetings with the department for accessibility at Metro in the Washington, D.C. area. This will help me to initiate a similar project in Macedonia.”

Jagoda, who has muscular dystrophy and uses a power wheelchair, also met with people from Project PEER who focus on services for women with disabilities who have experienced domestic or sexual violence.

“They have curriculum for self-esteem and building healthy relationships, which is something that we want to initiate and work when we return to Macedonia.”

Coincidentally, Jagoda’s sister and Mobility Challenge partner, Jasmina, was selected for MIUSA’s Empower Partnerships for Inclusive Communities program, and they found themselves in the same place during the Washington, D.C. Empower summit. Jagoda helped her sister develop a poster and accompanied her to present it to the U.S. Department of State.

Reconnecting with MIUSA prompted Jagoda to speak fondly of her experience with the WILD program. “I love the opportunity to meet MIUSA after five years. It is something that is of great value for me. Just being around MIUSA staff is empowerment for women with disabilities.”

Jagoda said that her time in Washington, D.C. was not without its frustrations – adapting to a new city with a different culture and language is always hard. But as she says, having other CSP Fellows placed in Washington, D.C. was like “having a family away from home."

After the whole experience, Jagoda is confident that she will have plenty to take back with her and apply to future projects.

“I feel what [my sister Jasmina and I] learned during these two programs is something that will influence our work and women with disabilities in Macedonia for many, many years. We are full of ideas about what we can initiate and we are also in contact with people that can help all that to come into realization.”

The Community Solutions Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and administered by IREX.