July 3, 2012
Celebrate 4th of July by becoming a citizen diplomat! To learn more about citizen diplomacy, check out our new AWAY Topics: Citizen Diplomats with Disabilities.
According to the U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy (USCCD), citizen diplomats “are motivated by a responsibility to engage with the rest of the world in a meaningful, mutually beneficial dialogue.” Below are some suggestions from USCCD in how to engage in this dialogue along with real life examples from citizen diplomats with disabilities. Our new AWAY Topics also has more information and suggestions on the importance of citizen diplomacy.
Learn about history, culture, and ways of life and thinking different from your own.
Shannon Coe, who has childhood polio and uses a wheelchair, was a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay.
She has also volunteered extensively around the world. “Everywhere I traveled, I made efforts to meet new people and learn about their perspectives and culture… I still keep in touch with my friends in other countries as they shared a very important chapter in my life.”
Respect people’s rights to views and approaches other than your own.
Christy Smith, who is Deaf, spent a year traveling around the world and learning about Deaf culture. In addition to making a documentary on a home for the disabled in Calcutta, India, she co-founded Discovering Deaf Worlds, a non-profit that now works with Deaf communities internationally. In her opinion, it is important to respect the differences between international Deaf cultures. “Learn that country’s sign language,” she says. “Respect their cultures. American Deaf Culture is not the same as other deaf cultures.” For example, in America, the Deaf often greet each other with hugs, but this is not an acceptable form of communication for the Deaf community in Japan.
Explore other cultures and places with curiosity and openness.
Haben Girma, a deaf-blind student at Harvard Law School, first volunteered abroad with buildOn as a teenager. Her curiosity allowed her to confront questions about how to become involved in Mali, where she helped build a schoolhouse. “My advice to anyone who wants to travel abroad: it’s OK to not know everything,” she says. “I dealt with many vague questions before going to Mali: How are you going to participate? How are you going to help build a school? How will you communicate with your host family? When I brought these questions to the program leader, she said, ‘I don’t know, but we’ll figure it out.’ She was right.”
Act to understand, engage, and work with people from around the world.
In addition to working on the Child Protection Team in the Philippines and working to increase participation, education and safety among children in her area, Nehama Rogozen plans to work with the disabled in the Philippines. “Too often, disabled people do not receive the care or respect they deserve, due to lack of money, awareness, or resources. I am still exploring ways that I can become involved with disabled people here.”