Advancing disability rights and leadership globally®

What Makes One Take Action?

Lizzie Kiama (right) and a friend wear helemts and smile for a photo
Lizzie Kiama (right) and a friend wear helemts and smile for a photo

How do short term international exchanges advance equal rights for people with disabilities? It starts with an individual taking action.

For Lizzie Kiama, a disabled activist from Kenya, an afternoon spent on a YMCA basketball court in Oregon, USA, gave rise to a new idea. “This was when my dream for Women & Wheels was born,” says Kiama who has a physical disability. “I had the opportunity to take part in Wheelchair Rugby, and I knew I had to play the sport again.”

And that’s exactly what she did. Three months after flying back to her family and community in Nairobi, Lizzie hosted the first Women & Wheels workshop for close to 30 people with disabilities, including a disability sports expert from the Ministry of Sports. She also used it as a way to talk about other issues of importance to women and girls. So how did she achieve it?

Lizzie Kiama, with her dedication and persistence, does not let go of an idea very easily. She first applied to MIUSA’s International Women’s Institute on Leadership and Disability (WILD) in 2012. As a member and volunteer for the National Council for Persons with Disabilities, Kiama wanted to increase her skills to pursue equal rights for women with disabilities in Kenya. Her excitement at being accepted came to a halt when her application for a U.S. visa was denied. This did not stop her. In 2013, Lizzie applied again to MIUSA’s WILD program and this time, she succeeded.

To make the most of this exchange opportunity, Lizzie focused on one goal — to develop a practical plan of action that would be implemented upon her return home. 

After that sports workshop, she outlined her action plan: contact wheelchair manufacturers, obtain sponsorships, recruit participants, secure venues. Each activity brought her closer to the end result and her true reason she wanted a wheelchair rugby workshop.

“My Women & Wheels Project incorporates sessions on gender-based violence, health, sexual and reproductive rights and targets women and girls of different abilities,” says Kiama about the one-day wheelchair rugby development workshop. “It has captured a lot of attention because we are focusing on issues that generally affect all women and girls; we are actually tackling issues of disability in a roundabout way. We are practicing inclusion, and as the women interact and have fun, they are not disabled. They are all women.”

Kiama is just one of many MIUSA alumni around the world who expand upon the opportunity of a short-term international exchange to develop and fine-tune unique ideas that are transformed into action.

This project was a follow-on activity of the WILD 2013 program and supported by a WILD Seed Grant. Learn more about the WILD Seed Grants program in the Related Resources section.

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