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International advocates for deaf community gain leadership skills at Gallaudet

Image: Facilitators and staff for the Grassroots Advocacy International Leadership Training Program (front row, from left): Dr. Joseph Innes, 
Dr. Madan Vasishta, Edward Cheah, Dr. Simon Guteng, Danilo Torres, Alisha Bronk, and Wendy Wiatrowski, gather with 2013 graduates of the program. (Photo by Matthew Vita)

Facilitators and staff for the Grassroots Advocacy International Leadership Training Program (front row, from left): Dr. Joseph Innes, Dr. Madan Vasishta, Edward Cheah, Dr. Simon Guteng, Danilo Torres, Alisha Bronk, and Wendy Wiatrowski, gather with 2013 graduates of the program. (Photo by Matthew Vita)

Twenty advocates from seven countries were at Gallaudet July 14 to 20 to learn more about how to improve opportunities for deaf people back home.
 
This marks the third year that the Grassroots Advocacy International Leadership Training Program has been offered through the G. "Bummy" Burstein Leadership Institute (BLI) at the Center for Continuing Studies (CCS), which is under the auspices of the University's Graduate School and Professional Programs. According to Dr. Simon Guteng, director of programming and evaluation at CCS, the first training was held in 2009 and the second one in 2012 for 13 and 23 international leaders, respectively, and proved to be very successful.

The training is designed to develop skills among emerging and promising leaders from around the world. This year, participants learned how to self-analyze their own leadership styles and understand the implications of those styles within various leadership contexts, how to develop strategies to encourage their governments to implement the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, how to prepare others for advocacy at the grassroots level, and how to raise funds.
 
This year's training was led by Dr. Madan Vasishta, an associate professor in the Department of Administration and Supervision who has more than 30 years' experience as an administrator at schools for deaf students and has written extensively on deaf education and the rights of deaf people.  Vasishta, who is originally from India, is also the chief advisor for the Indian Sign Language Research and Training Center in Delhi, India.

"In developing countries, many deaf people can't read or write," said Vasishta, the first person to earned three degrees from Gallaudet ('71, G-'73; and PhD-'83). "It was an eye-opener for the international students to see Gallaudet where there is a deaf president, deaf policemen, a deaf provost, and deaf professors. When they come here, they realize, 'I can' instead of 'I can't.'  A thousand lectures and workshops would still have had less impact on those students compared to visiting Gallaudet itself.  They feel empowered, and the belief that 'deaf can do' really took root during their stay at Gallaudet-a pilgrimage that changed their lives."

This year, deaf and hard of hearing participants from Ethiopia, Liberia, Mongolia, Nigeria, Nepal, Panama, and Saudi Arabia made that pilgrimage.

Isaac Fiatt, a Grassroots Advocacy Training participant from Mapfre, Panama, said the heard about the training program from the Udelas University in Panama. He said the program helped improve his presentation skills. "I feel very impressed with Gallaudet University being the number one model in the deaf community," Fiatt said.  "Honestly, Gallaudet feels like home to me. I'm proud of Gallaudet and how people show the world its superiority. ... I want to say a million thank-yous to Gallaudet for the wonderful one-week program."

Hend Alshowaier from Saudi Arabia, coordinator of the Deaf and Sign Language Program - Prince Salman Center for Disability Research, learned about the program through Gallaudet's website. She said the program helped her identify a problem, then analyze, develop, implement, and evaluate a project to solve that problem. "I was impressed by the services Gallaudet provides to deaf and hard of hearing students," Alshowaier said.  "I will apply everything I learned during the leadership training in my country and improve services for Saudi and Arab deaf people."

Ch. Ulziitsetseg, an educator at a preschool in Mongolia who, as a leader, wants to create unity among the deaf community in Mongolia, also had an eye-opening experience at Gallaudet.  "I was impressed by the signing culture at Gallaudet," said Ulziitsetseg.  It was unique to be taught by deaf professors and meet deaf researchers.  At Gallaudet I saw deaf interpreters for the first time.  The experience helped me to have more self-confidence, and I want to say I was truly encouraged."

All of the leadership training participants are responsible for their airfare, while BLI covers their tuition, meals, housing, and a tour of Washington, D.C.  "Airfare can take up as much as five months' salary for someone coming from a developing country," Vasishta said.  However, many participants felt it was worth their time and money to visit a place like Gallaudet. "There is a huge chasm in leadership in all developing countries where deaf people depend on hearing people to lead them," Vasishta said.  "Only the United States is 'rich' in deaf leadership, and all countries need deaf leaders."

In addition to Vashista, facilitators for the 2013 Grassroots Advocacy International Leadership Training Program included Dr. Joseph Innes, a retired professor of education at Gallaudet University, founder and director of the BLI, and dean of the College of Professional Studies and Outreach; Julie Rems-Smario, a community and family educator at the California School for the Deaf in Freemont; and Dr. Simon Guteng, an associate professor of education and director of programming and evaluation in the CCS and pioneer of the first state disability law in Nigeria. Dr. Carol Erting, associate provost/dean of the Graduate School, Continuing Studies, and International Programs, and Dr. Susan King, associate dean for Graduate Admissions and CCS at Gallaudet University, provided support for the training.

--By Megan Clancy
 

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