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Embracing Inclusion and Empowerment: My Unforgettable Fellowship Experience

Bakar Hamad is a 2023 Fellow in the Professional Fellows Program on Inclusive Civic Engagement. This program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and is administered by the Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) at the University of Massachusetts Boston in partnership with Humanity and Inclusion (HI). The following blog post was written by guest author Bakar Hamad.

An African man wearing a dark suit stands at a podium at the front of a conference room

I have a lot to say about this Fellowship, because it is one of a kind and is full of people with high skills and understanding of issues related to the inclusion of people with disabilities in different fields. I was very comforted by the process of preparing for my trip and the welcoming I received on May 4, 2023 at the Boston airport.

During the orientation session, we, the Fellows, had a chance to get to know each other and present our follow-on projects. It was at this stage that we had an opportunity to revise and help each other with ideas to improve our projects. The invited speakers were the impetus for the improvement of our projects because the issues they presented and questions they raised gave insight and an image of alternative ways that helped us achieve the goals of our fellowship.

On the evening of May 6, 2023, I arrived at the Iowa airport where I received a kind welcome from my host Dr. Derrick K. Willis, a PFP Host for the fourth time. Derrick is funny, cheerful, and willing to share everything he knows, not only concerning inclusive civic engagement for people with disabilities, but also leadership-related skills. Derrick is a Director of Iowa’s University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD) at the Center for Disabilities and Development (CDD) within University of Iowa Health Care. It was a pleasure and comfort for me that the information about my presence at the CDD department was featured in CDD’s weekly article.

To work or study at the University of Iowa, you must undergo a health screening, which for me was the first thing to do immediately after reporting to CDD, followed by the process of attaining a scholar trainee card. As a visitor at the CDD, I was able to participate in all the meetings and sessions. I was given the same opportunity as other employees to contribute, ask, advise, and share my thoughts during the participatory planning for advocacy work plans.

I was also able to connect with hosts from other states who hosted the Fellows of the Spring 2023 PFP cohort in an outbound information session organized by the PFP team. This session aimed to provide the information and instructions about how to apply for the outbound program opportunity. Furthermore, I participated in the Zoom meeting with Iowa’s Olmstead Consumer Taskforce, held on May 12, 2023, where I was able to learn various things about how to reach out to legislatures and decision makers to advocate for issues that concern people with disabilities.

My favorite moment that will remain in my memory is joining my host’s family in Sedalia City, Missouri, where we connected with his family and participated in a Sunday service. In addition to learning about disability issues, I’ve also learned about the diversity of the US and how dynamic it is. At Sedalia, we had a get-together and family lunch to honor our mothers on International Mother’s Day.

An African man is taking a selfie with a large group of people in the background