It is hard to believe that we have been in Azerbaijan for one week already. The kindness and hospitality that we have been shown by the ITD Alumni from Azerbaijan as well as so many others has been wonderful. Azerbaijan is a beautiful country filled with so many gracious people. We also have a great group of people from the US in our delegation. This trip and all of the adventures along the way has enabled us to get to know one another quite well in a short period of time. I am so thankful to be sharing this experience with such an incredible group of people with so much knowledge to share.
Nate and Craig have done a great job of documenting our day to day trips and experiences so instead of recapping what we have done each day, I thought that I would share some of my thoughts on the experience thus far. I think the thing that has struck me the most so far is the high level of dedication to serving the children, adults and families in need that we have seen displayed by so many of the professionals that we have met this past week. While we certainly have greater strides to make in regard to serving individuals of all abilities in the United States, we already have a great deal of services to offer children and adults in the realms of education, recreation, vocational training and sport. If a child with an intellectual disability wants to play basketball, it is likely that there is a Special Olympics team that they could become involved with. If an adult with Cerebral Palsy wants to learn vocational skills, they will most likely be able to find a day program to fit their needs at least to some extent. Seeing the high level of need here in Azerbaijan has made me recognize how fortunate we are to have the services that we do in the United States.
Many of the ITD alumni as well as other professionals and volunteers that we have visited over the course of our trip thus far are doing absolutely amazing work to serve individuals with disabilities often with very little space and resources. Nazaket, an ITD alumni said something very poignant that has really stuck with me, when discussing the small work space for her organization she said ‘small office, big work’. I beleive that this simple phrase speaks to many of the organizations that we have seen. There are many dedicated individuals that are doing very ‘big work’ to serve those in need with very limited space and financial resources. They are using what they have to make the greatest impact that they can. The second site that we visited a community learning center for children and young adults of all abilities where alumni Sabuhi works, was an excellent example of a group of dedicated individuals doing the best they can to serve those in need. When the organization receives a grant, the staff can be paid, when it does not, they work on a purely volunteer basis. The director of the facility, Sabuhi’s mother, actually sold their family home to be able to buy the center outright to keep it running. She recognized the need in their community and has done whatever it takes to be able to continue to provide services with passion and heart.
The example above is just one of the many powerful stories that we have heard since arriving to Azerbaijan. I have been overwhelmed by the level of dedication to serve people in need by the ITD alumni and those that they collaborate with. While we are halfway across the world, we have learned that many of the struggles that people with disabilities and those that provide services to them are no different. I am looking forward to the experiences that this next week will bring. Today we have the opportunity to explore the city of Sheki and to visit the sports arena where we will see a youth soccer program. We are then off to Mingechevir tonight for a few days.
Best wishes to all,