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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
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 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
Jenny (right) with another exchange student

Dear Future Exchange Student

Dear Future Exchange Student,

If you are chosen as an exchange student, you might have a lot of questions and thoughts about everything. That's how I was at first.

I worried about everything, especially because of my disability. There was a time when I almost gave up on everything. I was tired of thinking of all the stuff I had to do, all the forms to fill out, all the discussions I had to have with my parents, and a lot more.

Personal Stories
A young woman using a bright red wheelchair smiles at the camera.

Professional Exchange: A Catalyst for Change

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.

Personal Stories
Azat wearing a t-shirt that says "Kyrgyzstan"

A New Commitment to Social Justice

Azat Toroev, a U.S. Department of State-funded Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) participant from Kyrgyzstan who has a physical disability, came to the United States driven by his interests in film, volunteering, and journalism. Azat quickly became an active presence in his host community of Fort Collins, Colorado.

Personal Stories
Screenshot of Yulia in wheelchair raising her arms outside

Video: A FLEX Student Turned Disability Rights Leader

True to its name, the Future Leaders Exchange Program (FLEX) had predicted wisely when it counted Yulia Simonova among its "future leaders" in 2001. Although over a decade has passed since Yulia spent a year in the U.S. as a high school exchange student, she claims that the experiences that shaped her there continue to serve her in her current role as a disability rights leader and founder of non-profit organization Perspektiva in Russia. Yulia, who has a physical disability and uses a wheelchair, created this video to describe how.

Personal Stories
Jagoda on Capitol Hill with others

Building Connections to Find Solutions

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.

Personal Stories
WILD women and resource people holding their hands in the air

Demanding Change in India

Never underestimate the power of disabled women.

Especially when they’re WILD women fighting their way to the forefront of the social debates, strategic planning sessions, and discussions about ending violence, illiteracy, unemployment, poverty, and inaccessible health services.

Personal Stories
Ocean and mountains

Going Out and Discovering the World

In many ways, Christy Smith is the ultimate survivor.

She was born premature and weighed just two pounds at birth. When she pulled her breathing tube out as a baby, she became deaf. Later, she became the first Deaf person on reality TV when she starred on the Amazon edition of CBS’ popular reality TV show Survivor. She lasted thirty-three out of thirty-nine days before she was ousted and finished sixth.

Christy is more than just a survivor. She’s also an adventurer, a world traveler, and an advocate for Deaf communities everywhere.

Personal Stories
Teresa with students in classroom in Ghana

Opening Worlds Through Teaching

As a Harris Wofford Global Service Fellow, Teresa Pichardo was selected to participate in a Cross-Cultural Solutions volunteer program in Ghana. At the school where she worked, Teresa had a chance to work with students who are Deaf like her and open their world.

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