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Advocating for Change: Derrick Willis' Outbound Adventure

Published: Mar 13, 2024

Country: Tanzania

Derrick Willis Outbound Fellowship Experience

Derrick Willis is a US Outbound Fellow in the FY2021 Professional Fellows Program (PFP) on Inclusive Civic Engagement. This program is sponsored by the US 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 & Inclusion (HI). The following blog post was contributed by guest author Derrick Willis.

Derrick Willis and Bakar Hamad are committed to fostering inclusive civic engagement and transcending borders and barriers. In this blog post, Derrick, Director of the Center for Disability and Development (CDD) at the University of Iowa and President of the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) Board of Directors, shares his transformative Outbound Fellowship journey to Tanzania.

In December 2023, Derrick traveled to Zanzibar as a US Outbound Fellow to support Spring 2023 Fellow Bakar Omar Hamad, Acting Executive Director of the Organization of Women with Disabilities in Zanzibar (JUWAUZA). Their goal was to increase participation of people with disabilities, particularly women with disabilities, in political decision-making in Zanzibar.

During their 2-week outbound collaboration, Derrick and Bakar focused on enhancing disability advocacy in Zanzibar through various activities, including training women with disabilities on self-awareness, self-determination, and SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) goal setting. They also provided technical assistance to selected leaders of Organizations of Persons with Disabilities (OPDs) and mentored JUWAUZA staff. Additionally, they collaborated with the US Embassy in Dar es Salaam to convene alumni from the Professional Fellows Program (PFP) and other exchange programs. The focus was on discussing disability inclusion and the role of exchanges in promoting knowledge sharing and learning.

In the first week of the outbound, Derrick, alongside JUWAUZA staff, conducted a 2-day training for 20 women with disabilities in Zanzibar. The training focused on self-discovery and self-determination in the context of pursuing political appointments in Zanzibar. They worked with the women to establish SMART goals for their advocacy. Following the training, participants continued to meet regularly with JUWAUZA staff to discuss their progress.

Additionally, Derrick and Bakar organized a 2-day session for leaders from eight local OPDs, including the Federation of OPDs in Zanzibar (SHIJUWAZA), Zanzibar Association of the Deaf (CHAVIZA), All About Albinism, Zanzibar Association of People with Disabilities (UWZ), Zanzibar Association of Sign Language Interpreters (JUWALAZA), Zanzibar Association of Albinism (JMZ), Zanzibar Center of Developmental Disabilities (ZACEDID), and Zanzibar National Association of the Blind (ZANAB). This session aimed to introduce the concept of collective impact for systems-level disability advocacy. Derrick and Bakar facilitated discussions where leaders explored developing a shared agenda, engaging in mutually supportive activities, and fostering effective communication within the OPD group.

The outbound collaboration also aimed to strengthen the capacity of JUWAUZA staff. Derrick and Bakar engaged them in focused discussions to identify their professional growth goals and the steps to achieve them (see Figure 1). They reviewed programmatic areas and discussed strategies to improve effectiveness and outcomes. Following these discussions, staff expressed interest in regular group meetings to empower women with disabilities in their advocacy efforts. As a result, Bakar, his staff, and Derrick agreed to hold monthly Zoom meetings to continue capacity-building, invite disability specialists, and eventually develop a curriculum introducing best practices in disability inclusion from the US.

Reflecting on the capacity-building with JUWAUZA staff, Bakar remarked:

“The outbound experience has significantly impacted JUWAUZA’s work and operations. Through discussions with JUWAUZA staff beyond the training, it provided an avenue for experience sharing and learning, improving the advocacy skills for people with disabilities. The outbound has also bolstered the self-esteem of women with disabilities in Zanzibar and fostered a long-term relationship between JUWAUZA and CDD through the ongoing monthly learning sessions between these two organizations.”

Nine individuals, including 8 Zanzibari women and one African American man, posing for a group photo. Behind them are several banners that read JUWAUZA.
Figure 1: Derrick (center) with JUWAUZA staff at the JUWAUZA office.

A highlight of Derrick's outbound trip was his participation in the 15th anniversary celebration of JUWAUZA's dedicated service to women with disabilities in Zanzibar. He joined esteemed dignitaries, including the Second Vice President of Zanzibar, Hon. Hemed Suleiman Abdulla. He delivered a powerful keynote speech and was acknowledged for his exceptional advocacy for disability inclusion in Zanzibar (see Figure 2).

Six people, including 5 Tanzanians and 1 American, posing for a group photo. The two individuals in the center of the group are holding up a certificate.
Figure 2: Derrick (third from left) receiving a certificate from the Hon. Hemed Suleiman Abdulla (third from right), Second Vice President of Zanzibar, in recognition for his outstanding disability inclusion advocacy in Zanzibar.

Derrick and Bakar also used the outbound collaboration as an opportunity to engage alumni from different fellowship programs, including the PFP. Organized in partnership with the US Embassy Tanzania, the event took place on December 11, 2023, in Dar es Salaam, with 35 participants, including three PFP alumni. Its aim was to highlight past Fellows' achievements and foster dialogue and networking, promoting continuity and community engagement.

Fortunately, the outbound trip wasn't all about work! Derrick had the chance to immerse himself in Zanzibari culture through various activities, such as swimming with dolphins, exploring coral reefs in the Indian Ocean, and touring Old Town (see Figure 3). Reflecting on his experience, Derrick shares:

“Exploring Old Town and learning about its history, from religion to slavery, colonization, and trade, was enlightening. The walking tour provided insight into the daily lives of many in the region, and I'm grateful for these cultural experiences. Although learning about the history, especially the slavery and treatment of Africans, was challenging, both experiences were profound and transformative.”

As Derrick reflects on his outbound journey as a US Outbound Fellow, he acknowledges the importance of collaborative partnerships in driving meaningful change. He states:

"The Outbound Fellowship had a profound impact on my outlook on disabilities beyond my state and country. I am inspired to share this enthusiasm with other leaders in our network and raise awareness about the opportunities that exist to create partnerships."

Derrick plans to continue collaborating with Bakar to find research funding and support each other in proposal development. As AUCD President, he will prioritize international relationships and enhance AUCD’s International Special Interest Group. He wants to further develop Bakar's and other leaders' capacities through virtual training, assistive technology, quarterly capacity-building sessions with OPD leaders from Zanzibar, and a follow-up trip to the island within the next year to assess the impact of their work.

Two men, one African American man and one Zanzibari man with his arm in a sling, standing on a beach with boats behind them.
Figure 3: Derrick (left) and Bakar (right) enjoying the beach in Zanzibar.