In October 2013, WorldChicago hosted leading disability rights advocates though the U.S. Department of State Professional Fellows Program, including Imed Ouertani of Tunisia and Tawhid Sharaky of Egypt. Imed completed a fellowship with Access Living while Tawhid spent his fellowship with University of Illinois Chicago Department of Special Education.
Since returning to Egypt and Tunisia, both of these remarkable Professional Fellows have made great progress in their home countries.
Back in Egypt, Tawhid is a member of the Ministry of Education which gives him large influence over schooling in Egypt. He is currently in the process of implementing the creation of individual learning plans for students with disabilities. For each school subject he is forming focus groups for students which assist educators to better address disability issues. Since his time in the U.S. in 2013, about 350 schools in Egypt now provide services to over 2,000 students thanks to his efforts, and those numbers are only going up!
Since his return to Tunisia, Imed has helped to write the new Tunisian Constitution, adopted as of January 26, 2014. He has successfully advocated to Parliamentarians for the inclusion of people with disabilities in the new Constitution with equal rights and opportunities. He has been the voice for the disability community in Tunisia and has created a movement to change perceptions of citizens with disabilities and develop better, transformative legislation. In the last year he has already pushed forward proposals for people with disabilities to seek help while living independently. Down the road, he hopes to become ” the first Tunisian president with a disability.”
With Chicago as the classroom for these motivated leaders, the experience that Tawhid and Imed gained from the Professional Fellows Program was invaluable.
Tawhid was able to visit the College of Education, Family Resource Center on Disabilities, College of Applied Health Services, and the Department of Disability and Human Development, which all impacted his work. Most importantly, what he took from his time in Chicago was the creation of individualized learning plans, which he learned through workbooks at the Illinois State Board of Education.
Imed’s fellowship at Access Living gave him hands-on experience working in environments with exposure to the American Disability Act, which promotes equal employment opportunities for people with disabilities. His time with Access Living helped him to understand that perception of people with disabilities is the biggest barrier to cross in Tunisia. As he says in his awareness campaign, “We [the disabled] are just like you; disabled do a lot of good things and bad things, too.”
Both of these Professional Fellows Program alums are well on their way to taking the knowledge and experiences gained in the U.S. and making meaningful change back in their home countries.
— Marina Alessi, WorldChicago