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First Time for Everything

August 1, 2017

By Anna Custis

Young women smiles at camera

Ann Custis

Being in USICD’s Youth in Foreign Affairs and International Development internship program gave me an opportunity to stay in the George Washington University Potomac House dorm, where I was assigned to be roommates with fellow cohort, Janelle Lyons!

      Keep in mind, that until June 2017, I had never had a roommate, not even in college.  I remember recalling all of my friends’ roommate horror stories, from possession of illegal substances, stealing food and more (one of my closest friends was punched).  From bathroom scheduling to lights out, I was worried I’d be stepping on some toes. Turns out, there was no need to worry at all! Janelle and I get along really well.  She’s like the cool older friend with lots of wisdom and advice to give you, and I’ve certainly learned a lot from her.

    Back when I was still in Orlando, my closest friends constantly told me to explore Washington D.C., make new friends and have some new experiences.  They told me to avoid being lonely. I honestly thought I would just stay in the dorm all the time, doing nothing on the weekends except for playing computer games. Well, sometimes I still do that.  Anyways, the more important thing to note here is that I actually made a friend! Our time together was short, but trying out new restaurants and visiting our favorite little yogurt shop was some of the best times I’ve had so far in Washington D.C.  I miss my friends in Orlando a lot, but Janelle helped lessen the pain of missing them.

            Pretty soon, our two month internships will be over and everyone will be going back to school or to new jobs. Janelle will be going back to Boston, and I’m still unsure on whether I will be remaining in Washington D.C. or moving to Chicago.  What I do know, however, is that I will miss the 2017 USICD cohort, and that I wish nothing but the best for all them from here on out.

Ann Custis is a member of the 2017 cohort of the USICD Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program.  She and other USICD program interns are writing a series of blog posts about their experiences with USICD’s internship program and other topics, to be posted at this blog during the summer.  USICD coordinates the internship program, which brings a cohort of students and recent graduates with disabilities to Washington, DC, each summer to complete internships at various international organizations in the Washington, DC, area.  The internship program was enabled by funding support from  the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation(MEAF). Ann Custis is completing her internship at Handicap International USA (HI USA)  . Read the biographies of our interns in the summer 2017 program.  Or read blog posts by other current and past interns. The views and opinions expressed at this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of USICD, MEAF, or HI USA.

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From Inside the Classroom to Saving Lives

July 27, 2017

By Ryan O’Malley

Young man smiles at camera

Ryan O’Malley

Realizing the Importance of Health Care Management

For the last 16 years (and for the next 2) I have been a student. Many students graduate college and start to work. They quickly realize that everything they have learned in school is useless for their current profession. For me, I can safely say thus far it has not been that way. I just finished my undergraduate degree in health care management.  My internship is at Management Sciences for Health.  I think you can see the correlation yourself. My point is, I am fortunate that the USICD internship program has placed me at the real-world workplace version of my major.

Let me be honest with you, learning management in the classroom versus applying it in the work place is completely different.  Something that may seem entirely boring in the classroom all of a sudden is interesting in the workplace. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my major. But sometimes I sat there memorizing charts and wondered, am I really ever going to use this chart again?

Better management practices leads to better health outcomes. Anyone in health care will tell you that. The tricky part is how to achieve better management. For the sake of not boring you, I will not delve into the intricacies of management. Rather, I will discuss what I have learned about how management instruction from the Leadership Management and Governance project has impacted lives.  In Honduras, working together with the ministry of health, we have been able to better control the spread of HIV/AIDs. In Cote D’ Ivoire, MSH has brought better management techniques to help prepare clinics for another Ebola-like Epidemic.  These are just a couple of the impacts management technique has had on lives around the world.

That is why when it is a Friday afternoon and you are given an assignment to copy-edit a health care management instruction presentation that is 476 slides long, you are eager to do it. Because now I have seen the reports, the data, attended meetings and realized that maybe this little thing I am working on will help save lives in the future.

The reality of the situation in International Development is that it is a multi-faceted problem. Without infrastructure, institutes of education may not reach as many students or may not teach them as well. Without good quality education or fast, affordable, and reliable Internet access, the healthcare workforce may not be well educated or may have less access to information about good practices abroad. Without an educated healthcare workforce or access to information, chronic diseases go untreated and communicable diseases spread. The problems all run in a cycle. I may only be able to help with a small part of one problem in international development, but maybe the management knowledge I helped spread will be passed on for generations to come saving lives along the way.

Ryan O’Malley is a member of the 2017 cohort of the USICD Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program.  he and other USICD program interns are writing a series of blog posts about their experiences with USICD’s internship program and other topics, to be posted at this blog during the summer.  USICD coordinates the internship program, which brings a cohort of students and recent graduates with disabilities to Washington, DC, each summer to complete internships at various international organizations in the Washington, DC, area.  The internship program was enabled by funding support from  the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation(MEAF). Ryan O’Malley is completing his internship at Management Sciences for Health (MSH) . Read the biographies of our interns in the summer 2017 program.  Or read blog posts by other current and past interns. The views and opinions expressed at this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of USICD, MEAF, or MSH

Fears and Rewards

July 24, 2017

By Chuck Aoki

Young man smile at camera

Chuck Aoki

I’ll admit that I had a certain amount of apprehension before moving to Washington, D.C., for my internship with the National Democratic Institute (NDI) through the USICD Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program. The last time that I had moved completely across the country, on my own, I was 18, and had just graduated high school. To summarize that move succinctly, I’ll just say that I was a textbook example of a kid who was intellectually ready for the rigors of college, but not developmentally mature at all. That’s not to say I got into a massive amount of trouble or anything, but I was slightly overwhelmed by the prospect of living all by myself, with no one telling me when or where to be places.

Eight years later, I knew that I was much more mentally mature, and prepared for to move across the country again. I’ve been in graduate school for a year, and did reasonably well, plus I’ve traveled around the world and back for the last eight years. Moving across the country shouldn’t be a problem at all. Yet I still felt nervous as my plane began to land in D.C., despite all this. Nerves are a funny thing. I’ve played in front of massive crowds and spoken publicly in front of numerous groups of people without any apprehension. But this idea of moving across the country had me panicking ever so slightly.

The good news? My fears turned out to be completely misguided. Aside from forgetting to bring sheets, I managed to settle into my dorm nicely, and have been enjoying living in D.C. tremendously, aside from the occasional 3am fire alarm wakeup. And my work at NDI has been quite enjoyable, and I’ve been able to apply my skills that I’ve been learning in graduate school quite effectively to my work here. Using my skills to help further the inclusion of people with disabilities across the world has been a very rewarding experience, and I am so grateful for NDI and USICD for the chance to work in such a rewarding place.

Chuck Aoki is a member of the 2017 cohort of the USICD Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program.  he and other USICD program interns are writing a series of blog posts about their experiences with USICD’s internship program and other topics, to be posted at this blog during the summer.  USICD coordinates the internship program, which brings a cohort of students and recent graduates with disabilities to Washington, DC, each summer to complete internships at various international organizations in the Washington, DC, area.  The internship program was enabled by funding support from  the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation(MEAF). Chuck Aoki is completing his internship at the National Democratic Institute (NDI). Read the biographies of our interns in the summer 2017 program.  Or read blog posts by other current and past interns. The views and opinions expressed at this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of USICD, MEAF, or NDI

Promoting Inclusive Spaces for STEM Fields and Agricultural Sciences

July 20, 2017

By Jenna Shelton

Woman with shoulder length hair and a dark suit jacket smiles at the camera

Jenna Shelton

The narrow rows and rocky terrain make it difficult for people with physical impairments to navigate.

An agricultural research space at UC Berkeley

This article was first published as a guest column in World Learning’s Transforming Agency Access and Power (TAAP) Tuesday newsletter on July 18, 2017. It is cross-posted here with the permission of author Jenna Shelton and of World Learning.

Although people with disabilities have the capability to be doctors, engineers, agriculturalists, and chemists, there are few people with disabilities in these science-heavy areas. The absence of disabled people in Science, Technology Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) is a symptom of the all too frequent inaccessible experiential learning opportunities in STEM fields.  How do people with disabilities access and thrive in STEM opportunities if training and field spaces cannot provide inclusive accommodations? In Addressing the Inaccessibility of Research Spaces at UC Berkeley: Fostering Participation of People with Disabilities in STEM Fields, Jenna Shelton, a former student at UC Berkeley and a disability rights advocate, explores the lack of people with disabilities in science-based fields on UC Berkeley’s campus. She attributes the lack of people with disabilities to the exclusive built environment of science field spaces on college campuses as well as negative attitudes of disability within scientific fieldwork and practical sciences.

The project started when Jenna, then a junior at UC Berkeley studying agriculture and environmental sciences, could not find an inclusive accommodation for an agro-ecology course. Since she started gardening in a wheelchair at age six, she knew that inclusive accommodations in agricultural spaces were possible. After her request for inclusive accommodation received considerable pushback from the university, she led efforts to survey research spaces for accessibility with disabled student researchers. While the research team focused on surveying agricultural research spaces, the team also collected testimonials from students with disabilities who have faced barriers to accommodations in other STEM fields. With the information collected, Jenna wrote a policy analysis on why inaccessibility in STEM fields and agricultural sciences is a problem on UC Berkeley’s campus and how it can be addressed through a combination of universal design using environmental sustainability and training on inclusive accommodations for professors. Some recommendations include integrating raised garden beds and braille into the spaces, creating accessible pathways for cane and wheelchair users, and training professors on integrating inclusive accommodation in their work.

While this project was conducted on a very local scale, it can also be applied to global issues of accessibility in agriculture. Disability is not uncommon in agricultural work. Farmworkers who become disabled often face difficult decisions in how to provide for their families. Thus, implementation of inclusive accommodation in sustainable farming on a global scale can support the livelihoods of disabled farmers as well as environmental health. “Agricultural sciences within our global food system is a prime example of how people with disabilities have been excluded. People with disabilities are not seen as farmers. If farmers become disabled, they lose their livelihoods. It is time that we implement inclusive design and social structures that allow people with disabilities to access opportunities and participate in a global society,” says Shelton.

To learn more about Jenna Shelton’s work visit here.

Jenna Shelton is a member of the 2017 cohort of the USICD Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program.  She and other USICD program interns are writing a series of blog posts about their experiences with USICD’s internship program and other topics, to be posted at this blog during the summer.  USICD coordinates the internship program, which brings a cohort of students and recent graduates with disabilities to Washington, DC, each summer to complete internships at various international organizations in the Washington, DC, area.  The internship program was enabled by funding support from  the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation(MEAF). Jenna Shelton is completing her internship at International Medical CorpsRead the biographies of our interns in the summer 2017 program.  Or read blog posts by other current and past interns. The views and opinions expressed at this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of USICD, MEAF, World Learning, or International Medical Corps.

 

The American Way of Exclusion

July 19, 2017

“Nothing about us, without us!”

By Janelle Lyons

Woman smiles at camera

Janelle Lyons

Everyone, at one time or another, has experienced the dreaded feeling of exclusion. When considering what it means to be excluded, many think of social exclusion. Social exclusion occurs when individuals or groups are denied access from certain activities or experiences that are available to other members of society. Social exclusion often starts from the childhood playground and can last until the retirement home, and for those confused, being excluded in adulthood can be just as painful, especially for those who have repeatedly been ostracized throughout their life. Therefore, social exclusion is a timeless classic that can take many forms: never being picked for the little league team, a “lost” invitation to the community BBQ, or even being denied admission to a NYC nightclub. Honestly speaking, it is amazing how often and how creatively people exclude others. The reality of exclusive behavior is that after a while this lack of inclusion and integration can chip away at a person’s psyche, making it no longer something one can just “get over.”

While exclusion is a universal issue felt around the world, it is important to understand that the U.S. was founded on the idea of “us” vs. “them” and the use of exclusivity to ensure dominance. Exclusion in the U.S. dates back to its inception, but some of the most noteworthy examples can be found in the following discriminatory U.S. policies: the Jim Crow Laws of the 1890s, the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986/ War on Drugs,* and our newest addition, the immigration ban of 2017. For a country that was founded by people who were seeking escape from religious persecution/prejudice, any form of discrimination and exclusion seems rightly absurd.

Exclusion and its devices are destructive to say the least; however, for marginalized communities, social exclusion is just the tip of the iceberg. It is one thing to not get invited to a popular, social event, but it is another to be structurally excluded from governmental policies that directly affect you and your community. Given the U.S.’ diverse population, democratic values of equality, and vast infrastructure, policy inclusion should already be an established norm. But inclusion is a far found notation, especially under this current administration. For example, how can a small group of wealthy, white men sit in a room and decide the healthcare and reproductive standards of a nation? Are there no longer Women of Color Senators like Kamala Harris, Tammy Duckworth, and Catherine Cortez Masto? Or at the very least, are organizations like Planned Parenthood and Medicare Rights Center no longer in operation?

Therefore, the titled quote, “nothing about us, without us,” means just that. I actually decided to add this as my title not only because it is one of the first things I see on my way into the USICD office every morning, but because it is a reminder that my work this summer with Women Enabled International and the importance of advocating for the inclusion of women with disabilities in United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 National Actions Plans. The UNSCR resolution 1325 calls upon actors to increase the participation of women in all UN peace and security efforts. After spending hours sifting through countless pages of dense government documentation, it is this quote that keeps my mind focused and allow me to gain perspective on the goal at hand. It is impossible and counterproductive to create U.S. legislation without including the affected parties, whether that be persons with disabilities, minorities, LGBT+ persons, the elderly, youth, etc. If you exclude members of these groups from participating in the creation, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of these policies, you will inevitably miss the mark. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

However, there are numerous U.S. based organizations and advocacy groups, like the National Diversity Council, the National Inclusion Project, and the Disability Visibility Project, that work tirelessly everyday on inclusion. They seek to not only expose incidents of injustice and exclusion, but also add proactive recommendations that help remedy the issue of widespread exclusion in U.S. policy. Although each of these groups has their own agenda, they each seek to do their part in helping to create a more inclusive world for all.

*Used as an example of exclusion due to the fact that these policies disproportionally target and affect African-Americans. For example, under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, drug offenses involving crack cocaine, which was predominately used by African-Americans, were given extremely severe punishments when compared to those involving cocaine in its powdered form, which was primarily used by white people.

Janelle Lyons is a member of the 2017 cohort of the USICD Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program.  She and other USICD program interns are writing a series of blog posts about their experiences with USICD’s internship program and other topics, to be posted at this blog during the summer.  USICD coordinates the internship program, which brings a cohort of students and recent graduates with disabilities to Washington, DC, each summer to complete internships at various international organizations in the Washington, DC, area.  The internship program was enabled by funding support from the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation (MEAF). Janelle Lyons is completing her internship at Women Enabled International.  Read the biographies of our interns in the summer 2017 program.  Or read blog posts by other current and past interns. The views and opinions expressed at this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of USICD, MEAF, or Women Enabled International.

Immigrant’s Tale: Bridges not Walls

July 12, 2017

By Yuliya Gileva

Young woman smiles at camera

Yuliya Gileva

I am an immigrant in United States who has a disability and a purpose—words that I now feel the need to say more and more often as the current political climate shifts towards neglecting the hopes and dreams of so many people who have uttered these words before.

When the executive order that targeted people from Muslim-majority countries came to light, I thought of the Berlin Wall because of its significance in history. People were willing to die for their beliefs and the prospect of a better life as they crossed from East to West. Today, a similar theme is present, except not in the Cold War context. We should be building bridges rather than building walls.

One of the key ways to build bridges between people is to embrace diversity and include people from all walks of life in every community regardless of how large or small. Diversity, in my opinion, is in some ways similar to a kaleidoscope of beads in which unique individuals all come with varying life experiences, backgrounds, perspectives and goals for the future. Diversity leads to creative discussions and a vast array of potential solutions to difficult questions. It is that very distinction of each individual that adds to a more vibrant community.

Inclusion, the proactive and collective process towards appreciation of diversity, is a key factor to a stronger community. It is the embrace of uniqueness. Inclusion, in its ideal form, is a constant process that builds the pieces of the kaleidoscope that is diversity. Each piece shines on its own while also bringing out the beauty of the pieces around it. One of the main goals of inclusion is to give each individual a voice.  The importance of the voice is twofold. On the one hand, the voice of the individual helps that individual grow by sharing personal thoughts and experiences. On the other hand, that individual’s voice has the ability to impact the listeners in a positive way and shape or change the conversation.

It is my sincere hope that in the near future many more bridges will be built which will withstand the test of time. My tools are ready. Let’s continue to build the foundation— inclusion for all on paper and in practice. I’m thrilled to be a part of the Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs program which has continued to highlight the importance of inclusion throughout the years in a remarkably proactive way.

Yuliya Gileva is a member of the 2017 cohort of the USICD Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program.  She and other USICD program interns are writing a series of blog posts about their experiences with USICD’s internship program and other topics, to be posted at this blog during the summer.  USICD coordinates the internship program, which brings a cohort of students and recent graduates with disabilities to Washington, DC, each summer to complete internships at various international organizations in the Washington, DC, area.  The internship program was enabled by funding support from the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation (MEAF). Yuliya Gileva is completing her internship at the International Finance Corporation (IFC) at the World Bank.  Read the biographies of our interns in the summer 2017 program.  Or read blog posts by other current and past interns. The views and opinions expressed at this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of USICD, MEAF, or IFC or World Bank

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

July 11, 2017

By Anna Custis

Young women smiles at camera

Ann Custis

On June 16th, Handicap International USA celebrated Handicap International’s 35th birthday with a charming little tradition they like to call Cake Day.  Three cakes were baked, icing was piped, and sprinkles were spilled all over the floor and table.  It took a sizeable team to put these cakes together. It was a bit of a messy and time-consuming process, but in the end, it came out looking and tasting pretty good.  The time and effort led to a result that everyone could enjoy. It’s much like what we do with international development, foreign affairs, disability inclusivity and more on a daily basis.

This kind of work is not easy.  Much like when we were making our cakes, working in international development and in inclusivity can be frustrating and messy.  There are tears, setbacks and obstacles to all the work that we do, but it can still be fun and rewarding. In the end, it is all worth it.  When we put our minds to something and we all work together, we can come through and make such an incredible impact for people all over the world.  It doesn’t matter how small the team is either; as long as you are dedicated and you’re willing to work hard make things happen, then it will happen.

Through USICD’s internship program, I have been given the amazing opportunity to be part of something bigger and life-changing.  Within the past month alone, I have learned more about teamwork than I have ever done in these past twenty-one years, and for that I am extremely grateful.  It is humbling to see the hard work people put into their passion for humanitarian aid and international development with my own eyes, and I hope to have more rewarding experiences like this in my future.  Oh, and more cake.

Ann Custis is a member of the 2017 cohort of the USICD Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program.  She and other USICD program interns are writing a series of blog posts about their experiences with USICD’s internship program and other topics, to be posted at this blog during the summer.  USICD coordinates the internship program, which brings a cohort of students and recent graduates with disabilities to Washington, DC, each summer to complete internships at various international organizations in the Washington, DC, area.  The internship program was enabled by funding support from  the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation(MEAF). Ann Custis is completing her internship at Handicap International USA (HI USA)  . Read the biographies of our interns in the summer 2017 program.  Or read blog posts by other current and past interns. The views and opinions expressed at this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of USICD, MEAF, or HI USA.