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Politics & Government

Local Nonprofit Empowers Women Leaders From Across the Globe

Melorie Begay/KLCC News

Mobility International USA, a nonprofit based in Eugene, is holding their 2019 Women’s Institute on Leadership and Disability. It’s the 9th time they’ve hosted international delegates representing over a dozen countries. The idea is to create synergy among leaders from across the globe to advance disability rights and equity.

Full Transcription:

RACHAEL MCDONALD: In 1997, Mobility International USA started the Women’s Institute on Leadership and Disability, or the WILD program. Participants from across the globe have come to Eugene to network and strengthen leadership skills.

After waiting 3 years to gather enough funding to host the 2019 cohort, over 20 woman delegates with disabilities are in town with the goal to increase accessibility in their home countries. KLCC’s Melorie Begay reports.

MELORIE BEGAY: This year’s WILD program was highly competitive, with over four hundred applicants. A few of the countries represented are Uruguay, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, and Sindone Nduwimana’s home county of Burundi.

Credit Melorie Begay
Sidone Nduwimana

NDUWIMANA: It has been amazing, this program I have learned so much.

BEGAY: For the purpose of this interview 2 sign language interpreters translated for Nduwimana. Nduwimana is a sign language coordinator and head of social affairs for a deaf women’s association where she advocates for inclusive education and literacy.

NDUWIMANA: I saw the suffering and the struggle of many deaf women in my country. I saw a lot of pregnancies, I saw a lot of rape, I saw a lot of challenges with communication, the problems with education. HIV is a very serious problem for women in my country and so many women there have AIDS.

BEGAY: WILD applicants are required to be involved with organizations already doing work in their country. They also commit to following through on strategic plans they make during the program. Nduwimana wants to focus on education and independent living.

NDUWIMANA: Currently, I teach deaf women how to sew clothing, which means they can then make a living for themselves by selling that clothing. And really I’m trying to become the best leader that I can, so that I then influence and then make an impact and motivate other women in my country to become the best leaders that they can as well.

BEGAY: While the WILD trainings are intensive and include topics like international affairs, human rights, and violence against women, they also get the chance to take part in team building exercises. Today, they’re playing “wheelchair rugby” at the YMCA.


CINDY LEWIS: Only a couple of these women, actually use wheelchairs. A lot of them walk but with crutches, then we have blind women and deaf women.

Credit Melorie Begay

BEGAY: That’s program director Cindy Lewis. She watches as delegates in blue and yellow jerseys race back and forth on the court, passing around a volleyball.

LEWIS: Everything we’re doing here is building the concept of working together because what we know is that when people with disabilities work separately, blind people work for the blind people, the deaf people work for the deaf people, nothing happens.

BEGAY: While it’s technically a lesson in partnership, Lewis says it’s a fun sport.

LEWIS: To keep your own passion alive, to keep your own power, you have to do some fun things and you have to take care of yourselves and we have to take care of each other.


BEGAY: After an intense last play with the blue team taking the win. I caught up with Beyza Ünal a delegate from Turkey. She’s a clinical psychologist, and a board member for advocacy groups for women and youth.

Credit Melorie Begay/KLCC News
Beyza Ünal

ÜNAL: When you have a disability and when you are a women you are less likely to be taken seriously, for example. I mean people might, more likely to see you like a child, who should see you protected and like they might also think you cannot take your own decisions. You cannot care for yourself.

BEGAY: In Turkey, Ünal says independent living is more restricted making it difficult for people with disabilities to access healthcare, education, and employment.

ÜNAL: We don’t have any state support for personal assistance, we don’t have many accessible housing, we don’t have accessible transportation, so people cannot really live independently.

BEGAY: Ünal says she can help her home country with what she’s learning this week in Eugene. And so far, Ünal, who has muscular dystrophy, says she’s already inspired.

ÜNAL: I believe we are all strong women who are dealing with many different but at the same time similar challenges but, I mean, we all have different solutions to those challenges.

BEGAY: Susan Dunn is co-founder of Mobility International USA. She says the 3 week long program is crucial for delegates, not only for the skills they gain but for the chance to visit an accessible city.  

DUNN: So they’re riding the LTD bus system, they’ll see disabled people in wheelchairs can use public transportation, they’re gonna see disabled kids and how they are in regular schools.

BEGAY: At the end of the program, Dunn says the delegates will receive a grant to help fund initiatives toward human rights policies and advocacy.

Credit Melorie Begay/KLCC News
Susan Dunn

DUNN: They’re moving from inclusion, to infiltration. They’re infiltrating the women’s programs, the human rights programs, the international development program because disabled women and girls should be an integral part of all the programs that are making changes in the world.

BEGAY: Ideally, Dunn says the program would be an annual event, but they don’t have budget for it. She says, as a woman with a disability herself, she has an immense amount of respect for this year’s group who are already leaders in their own right. Melorie Begay, KLCC News.