by Angela Marin Rivera
From the Editor: Ashley Bryant from the National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange submitted this article. The Community Solutions Program is a professional development program for community leaders from around the world to contribute to U.S. community projects. In her mission to increase opportunities for people in Peru who are blind, Angela Marin Rivera sought an opportunity to do professional development with a U.S. blind organization, while expanding her own independent living skills. Here is Angela’s story:
I was born in Lima, Peru, and I have been blind since birth, due to cytomegalovirus, a condition caused by rubella, which affected my mother when she was pregnant. I have lived with my parents, Fernando and Carmen, and my sister Daniella for most of my life.
My parents have always cared about my education and helped me to grow up like any other child. I first went to a school for the blind called San Francisco de Asis, a primary school, where I learned Braille and all the academic subjects I needed. For high school I went to Hector de Cardenas, which was a regular school. I was the only blind student there, but the teachers helped me to take regular classes. Being included in a regular environment made this a wonderful experience.
After high school I applied to the National Women's University (UNIFE) to study languages and translation. I did well and finished my college career successfully. During that time I took some cane travel classes so that I could travel to and around the university. After I graduated from college, I worked as a computer teacher, translator, and switchboard operator, which helped me to be useful and gain more confidence in myself.
One day I was doing some research on my computer, and I read about the Community Solutions Program managed and funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State and implemented by IREX. This program searches for good leaders around the world who want to promote development in their communities. So, after thinking about this interesting opportunity, I decided to apply to the program. I know several organizations of the blind in Peru, and I had experience teaching computer courses to blind people, so I decided to continue helping others to be successful in life. One of my main goals is to help blind people to have more opportunities, as I do myself.
I later received an email from a staff member of IREX which said that I had been accepted to participate in the Community Solutions Program on a fellowship to come to the U.S. This would be a four-month fellowship to work with a host organization. After the training I would do a project in my home country.
I was told that my host organization would be the National Federation of the Blind. I was excited and nervous at the same time, since I knew it would be a challenge for me to live in another country without my family and friends, but I decided to go ahead with this opportunity to learn to be a good leader.
When I first arrived in the U.S., all the CSP fellows got together in Washington, D.C., to receive general training from the IREX staff about our four-month fellowships. After three days of training all of the participants went to their host organizations. I went to Baltimore and stayed at the National Center for the Blind for a week. There I met Mrs. Joanne Wilson, a great and powerful woman. I talked with Joanne about my goals and the project I wanted to accomplish. She helped me to understand the philosophy of the NFB and told me about training centers for independent living in the country. She suggested that it would be great if I had the opportunity to attend one of these centers, and I thought it would be very helpful in reaching my personal and professional goals. We talked to staff from the Nebraska Center for the Blind to see if I could become a client in the following months.
Within a few days I arrived in Lincoln to start my training. The center's rehabilitation program director and the apartment resource counselor showed me my new apartment, and I felt more comfortable. After my first interview we decided that my program would emphasize developing home-management and cane-travel skills because these are what I most needed to learn. I was already quite comfortable with computers and Braille.
My home-management instructor helped me to learn a lot of cooking skills and made me feel comfortable in the kitchen. I tried some new recipes that turned out well. The most amazing thing was that I could prepare meals for other people by myself. I also tried some of my mom’s recipes, and all of my family was impressed that I was learning how to cook and manage my own apartment. I truly thank my instructor for all the time she spent with me and all of the knowledge I acquired.
In cane travel class, I learned how to use the cane properly and how to travel independently. I also learned how to cross the streets on my own, explore different places, and ask for directions. It was very important that the cane-travel instructor had a lot of patience, knowledge, and experience. As a blind instructor he really understood our needs.
I appreciate all the support they and the entire staff gave me during my program. The instructors at the Nebraska Center for the Blind are the best I have ever met and are a great example of what we can make out of our lives.
I have new friends in America, and I will always remember the time I spent with the clients at the center, at the apartments, and during social gatherings. All of these friends helped me to change my life and be a better human being. I now feel strong enough to achieve my personal and professional goals.To apply as a professional or a host organization in the Community Solutions Program, visit <www.irex.org/project/community-solutions>. The National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange is sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State and administered by Mobility International USA. For more information about people with disabilities participating in international exchange programs, visit <www.miusa.org/ncde> or contact <[email protected]>.