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Personal Stories
Tijani, a young boy, kneeling in a garden plot

Focused on the Purpose

“When l return to Ghana l want to teach people about the disability laws practiced in the United States. l want people with and without disabilities in Ghana to be equal.” - Tijani Bukari

During our youth, what do we think about regarding our country, its citizens, and our own impact on society? Do we even think about these things at all? A strong sense of curiosity about the world led Tijani Bukari, a Deaf student from Ghana, to participate in the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.

Personal Stories
Ana smiling in front of bookshelves at school library

Flying High to Study in the United States

At just 16 years old, Ana was so confident that she and her wheelchair would soon be on their way to the U.S., she told practically everyone she knew that she had applied to the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.

Although Ana didn’t make the final selection pool the first time, she tried again a year later.

"When I applied the second time, I didn’t tell anybody except my mom. Most of my family found out that I was going to fly two days before my flight when we had my farewell party. They were shocked!"

Personal Stories
Seated at a kitchen table, exchange student Pinar holds a bouquet of flowers in one hand while supporting a sign that reads "Welcome" with her other. She is smiling and wearing a bright yellow tank top.

Last Minute Decision Leads to Unforgettable Hosting Experience

Melissa Gulledge, CIEE Regional Director from South Carolina, has years of experience placing international exchange students from all over the world with American families, but a last minute decision to host a teenager with a disability led to one of her own family’s most meaningful hosting experiences.

The clock was ticking to match Pinar, a young woman from Turkey who is blind, with a host family and school.

Personal Stories
Safira gardening as a volunteer with other exchange students

My Golden Year in America

I am 17 years old and an ASSE YES Exchange student from Karachi, Pakistan. I was very excited to get the opportunity to come to the United States of America. This was something that I prayed for and it was like a dream come true.

I am visually impaired and have had very little vision my entire life. In Pakistan, where I attended a school for the blind, there are many challenges and few opportunities for blind people. I’ve learned the opposite is true here in the U.S. What I’ve learned here [in the US] is more than I could possibly write about in a few short paragraphs.

Personal Stories
Two young adults, male and female stand behind a tandem bicycle

Exchange Year Adds to Colors of Life

I will never forget the day I met my host father, Mark, in the arrivals terminal at Bishop International airport. Mark offered his hand and greeted me by saying, “Merhaba,” which means hello in Turkish. I was both surprised and happy at the sincerity of his greeting and instantly felt very close to Mark. My first impression proved true, and throughout the year I had a very strong relationship with my host family.

Personal Stories
Lintang sits in an adaptive bicycle

An Extraordinary Ordinary Year

On a September evening in Jakarta, Indonesia, Lintang Kirana took center stage as part of a celebration of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the achievements of people with disabilities around the world. Surrounded by MIUSA’s Brilliant and Resilient photo exhibit, a touring exhibit highlighting the work of thirty women leaders with disabilities, Lintang transported the audience to her Wisconsin host community through stories of her year in the United States.

Personal Stories
Patricia sits in front of a banner describing the goals of her alumni project.

Bringing New Perspectives Home to Cameroon

The main reason I applied to the YES program to the United States was because I wanted to experience a place where people are different, yet not judged by their differences; a place where my abilities would be seen objectively. My parents were really encouraging because they knew my determination and capacity for overcoming difficulties.

Personal Stories
Portrait of Karine

Creating Innovative Organizations

My life was full of obstacles, difficulties, disappointments and stress as I was born with cerebral palsy in Armenia. However, due to my great willpower, industriousness, and optimistic character I have been very successful in my life.

Before I participated in the Women’s Institute on Leadership and Disability in the U.S., I was very shy. I had never traveled alone. After I returned to Armenia from WILD, I wanted to change everything. As that desire grew and thanks to a grant from the Global Fund for Women, I took the first steps to found my own organization.

Personal Stories
Portrait of Kanika

Changing the World through Education

I was born in Cambodia and contracted Polio at nine months old. Even at a young age I dreamt of becoming a leader for people with disabilities, traveling to different countries, and living independently.

Personal Stories
Portrait of Dulamsuren

Advancing Disability Rights through the Arts

I was the only child in my Mongolian elementary school who was losing her hearing. At first I was considered disruptive and someone who should be sent home, but gradually my teachers realized I could study just as well as my classmates. Today, if I compare myself to them, I’m living better than most.

Personal Stories
Portrait of Madezha

Mentoring the Next Generation of Women Leaders

I was born with a visual disability and became totally blind by the age of 28. Over the course of my life I developed a strong desire to contribute to my country and strengthen the disability movement in Peru.

After returning home from WILD, I was very inspired and empowered to do many things. Being in contact with women with disabilities from other countries, who have rich and varied experiences, gave me new energy and motivated me to achieve my dreams.

Personal Stories
Portrait of Ekaete

Realizing the Right to Sexual and Reproductive Health

In Nigeria, my culture places so much emphasis on the physical beauty of girls and women. As a polio survivor, I know that this notion causes most women and girls with disabilities to perceive their bodies as being unattractive and unacceptable. In turn, women and girls with disabilities treat their bodies with less value, which of course has serious implications for their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Personal Stories
Jeanette, seated in a power wheelchair, at the MIUSA office.

Staying Active While Advocating

Jeanette Lee has been a part of the Disability Rights Movement since its inception. Though she describes herself as shy, Jeanette’s strong voice as an activist has aided in creating a society in Australia that is constantly becoming more accessible.

During her studies in Melbourne, Jeanette was told by one of her mentors that ‘the world is not made for wheelchairs,’ and that she was not ‘being realistic’ with her situation. From this disappointment in leadership grew a greater desire for justice in the world.

Personal Stories
Two female exchange students smile at the camera in an outdoor setting.

A Year of New Experiences

From her host community of Spokane, Washington, Polina beams as she recalls the highlights of her academic year on the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program.

“I’m fully enjoying my time here! I have everything I need: a great host family, people who care about me and have been supporting me from the very first day I met them, a school with good teachers, and new friends.”

But like many high school students who consider studying abroad, Polina wasn’t always so sure her experience would be a positive one.

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