July 26, 2012
This post was guest-written by the Open Hands Initiative Team.
The Open Hands Initiative is a U.S.-based non-profit organization that specializes in fostering cross-cultural dialogue and exchanges between American and international youth. Our programming focuses on three thematic areas including disability and accessibility, journalism, and the arts. Through our people-to-people diplomacy projects, we seek to enhance mutual respect and understanding between U.S. citizens and citizens from the countries with which we work. To date, we have conducted exchanges in Syria and Egypt, with plans to expand our reach in the coming years.
Our first program, the Youth Ability Summit, took place in 2010 in Damascus, Syria, and brought together 26 youth advocates with disabilities. As a team they discussed strategies for promoting the rights and inclusion of people with disabilities in their respective countries. Despite linguistic and cultural differences, the Americans and Syrians found common ground that allowed them to build enduring friendships and create the world’s first cross-cultural superhero with disabilities: The Silver Scorpion. Already, the first edition of the six-part comic book series has been distributed throughout the United States, Syria and Egypt. You can also find the first edition in an animated web series on MTV Voices.
Sarah Funes, one of the participants from our Youth Ability Summit and a disability rights advocate, shares her thoughts on going to Syria, working with her Syrian counterparts, and how her life has changed since this unique experience.
What is a memorable moment from your time participating in the Youth Ability Summit?
My most memorable moment was being at the summit and learning from our Syrian counterparts about their lives and seeing their ideas play out in their superhero characters.
What did you take away from your interaction with the other participants?
I took away the knowledge that even half way around the world, we are all the same. We have the same dreams and the same goals.
What are you up to now?
I’m a sophomore at College of San Mateo getting ready to transfer. My dream is UC Berkeley. Since the summit I have been thriving at CSM. I’ve been an Intern at the Pineda Foundation/World Enabled and have been searching internally for what I want from life. Through this time of self-reflection I’ve discovered exactly what I want from life and what I don’t. My most recent undertaking is being a coach for a high school group of girls for a foundation called Girls for a Change.
What are your goals for the future?
My immediate goal is to transfer to UC Berkeley. I apply in the fall and find out next spring! Other goals are to write down my story with the help of my friend and continue finding opportunities for activism whether it be for the disability community or any of the communities that support human rights.
Overall, what kind of an impact did this summit have on your life?
Going to Syria changed my life. On a small scale I proved to myself that the world is round and on an epic scale I decided to double major in Political Science and International Relations. I want to learn Arabic to be fluent so I can write to my Syrian counterparts myself. I am more engaged in world affairs because of my Syrian experience. I can tell people how important comic books are. Going to Syria changed completely how I view life and how I view different cultures and means of communication between people. The Open Hands initiative changed my life! I will be forever grateful to all of the participants, the Open Hands Initiative, and the Pineda Foundation!
For more information about the youth advocates who participated in the Youth Ability Summit or to read about the Open Hands Initiative and our programs, please visit www.openhandsinitiative.org.