By Kelly Lytle
| Today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. It’s a day to stop and think about the estimated one billion people in our world who live life with disabilities. It’s a day to reflect on the challenges, but most of all, to celebrate the successes of individual who’ve overcome obstacles and add their unique abilities, personalities and light to our world. This day is celebrated in a variety of ways all over the world. The United Nations hosts many events at it’s headquarters in New York. One of our international partners, Motivation Romania, is holding their annual gala on this night in Bucharest, to celebrate the successes they’ve had and encourage more in their country to support programs for people with disabilities.
In my world, I’m celebrating here at my computer, while looking at the photos of many of the children and young adults we serve at Mosaic International. On this day of celebration, I think back to the person who founded our organization more than 100 years ago, Rev. K.G. William Dahl. He was a Swedish immigrant in rural Nebraska who saw the neglect and lack of dignity with which children and adults with disabilities were treated. He went into the dark places – the homes and institutions where people with disabilities were often hidden away and removed from their communities – and was driven to show the world that there could be a better way. There must be a better way.
With just 54 people giving $1 each, he founded one of the two organizations that would become the very place I’m writing from today – Mosaic. Not only are more than 3,500 individuals with disabilities currently served by Mosaic programs in the U.S. today, but over the last 20 years, Rev. Dahl’s dream has also gone global. I can’t imagine how thrilled he would be to know that his dedication and advocacy for those with disabilities has literally changed the world for children and young adults all over the globe.
The successes I celebrate today include programs in the early 1990s in Latvia, where Mosaic International was able to share expertise with a local partner organization. There, services for children with disabilities improved greatly and that program is now fully locally funded and independent. The successes in my mind also include the last decade of hard work in Romania with our in-country partner there. Nearly 50 young adults, many of whom were small children at the start, are now living in loving homes right in their communities. What a different world from the impersonal, indifferent institutions where we first met them! Their progress has been nothing short of amazing. Laurentiu now goes to high school by public transportation, quite independently, while living in a happy foster home. Marian is a Special Olympics champion at the national level with many medals. Georgiana, one of the youngest, is a happy girl who is growing, flourishing and constantly smiling.
Thinking of Tanzania, I celebrate victories as well. Children and young adults who used to be hidden away in mud and stick homes are now part of their communities, coming to our day centers each day. Brian, running in the photo above, was never supposed to walk or talk. Now he runs in races and loves to chat with everyone at his day center. Older boys like Samweli relish in their social time with their friends at the center and have learned responsibility, caring for chickens at one center. Their pride and sense of accomplishment is a joy to witness. Sia, a young woman who had been hidden away and had no interaction with others until coming to our day center as a teen, has made great strides. She interacts with staff and other youth at the day center and is even learning to communicate with pictures. Her life has opened up and she feels loved, valued and can express herself.
We’re seeing other successes as well, as a program. This winter, we will launch the first EVER inclusive education program in the Moshi, Tanzania public schools. Through years of relationship building and advocacy efforts, we’ve partnered with the local school authorities. They’ve supplied the classrooms and with our donors, we’ve supplied the funds and labor for renovations and to make them wheelchair accessible. They will supply public school teachers trained in special education and we will supply classroom aids. The end result: more children with disabilities will receive a full primary education! They will be a part of an active primary school and interact with and study several subjects together with children who do not have disabilities. Imagine that just 8 short years ago, these children with disabilities were hidden away! Friendships between children with intellectual disabilities and typically-developing children weren’t even a possibility at school. That’s worth celebrating!
Won’t you take a moment today and join me in celebrating all of these amazing children and young adults, and all of the staff who serve them daily in these programs? Leave me a comment below with your thoughts and well wishes, and I will certainly pass them on.
Thanks to the bravery, conviction and love of one man, Rev. K. G. William Dahl, and the small group of people who joined him a century ago, light and hope is shining in dark places even today. It is an honor to be part of such an effort, and to follow the lives of these inspiring children and young people.
Happy, happy International Day of Persons with Disabilities. There is much work to be done, but we can never forget to celebrate all of the victories.