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My Voice to Create a Better World

Published: Jun 24, 2024

Country: Kenya

Vera Robi Machera is a 2024 Fellow in the Professional Fellows Program 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 and Inclusion (HI). The following blog post was written by guest author Vera.

The journey began in January when I received the acceptance letter from the PFP Team to participate in the Spring 2024 Professional Fellows Program. What an ecstatic moment! For a few minutes, I thought this wasn’t true, and I had to share the letter with my friend to confirm. To my surprise, I received a congratulatory text affirming I had indeed been given the opportunity.

This would be my first time travelling to the United States, and five months from the time I received the acceptance letter to the expected time of travel seemed like a very long time. I couldn’t wait any longer.

My Inner Voice

What kept recurring in my mind was calling myself to a meeting to deliberate, attending the program not just for myself, but for those without a voice; those who have given up fighting for their rights; those who are discriminated against because of their gender, disability, and age; those who are denied the right to access information to make informed decisions.

This reminder stayed with me, deeply set in my mind, and I carry it with me to fulfill it.

In the Offices of Philadelphia

Wow! Coming from a society where gender roles are deeply rooted and women are seen primarily as homemakers, being in the offices in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, including that of my host site, was a huge accomplishment to me. It reminded me of growing up and being told the kitchen was the only place where I could make decisions for myself. How limiting that perspective was! I grew up dreaming of challenging the oppressive systems in my community, not knowing it was a global issue.

A dream comes true: Not only am I working in my country, Kenya, but I am also meeting professionals and sharing my experiences in the United States. The staff at Temple University’s Institute on Disability (IOD), my host site, were excited to have me around. Every person I interacted with motivated me, reminding me of the significant work I do in my country. “We are here to help you in whatever way,” they ensured me, always extending a helping hand.

An African woman with short black hair and black glasses stands behind a conference table, that has informational signs on it. She is holding a fidget toy in the hand, lifted up in the air.
Figure 1: Me attending the Philadelphia stakeholders’ coordinated health care fair, held on May 16, 2024, at Rivers Casino, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

My Reflection and New Perspective

My first week at IOD was filled with jetlag, culture shock, and adjusting to the new work schedule. After every meeting, I made sure to touch base with everyone I connected with via email. It was a great experience—a journey towards self-reliance. Midweek, I carved out time to collect, record, and process the information of the two teams I closely worked with the Health Equity Team and the Research and Evaluation Team.

Hours flew by, and I spent most nights awake trying to catch up with my schedule. It’s too soon to say the PFP Program has boosted my confidence, but I’ve already begun to overcome my imposter syndrome.

The image includes a woman’s hand, with a watch and bracelet that shows the Tanzanian flag, holding a blue envelope that reads “Pennsylvania Department of Health” 2024 Symposium on Children and Youth With Special Health Care Needs.” On top of the folder is a name card that reads “Vera Robi Institute on Disabilities, Temple University.”
Figure 2: My nametag from the Pennsylvania Department of Heath’s symposium on children and youth with special health care needs, held on May 20, 2024, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

I concluded my first Fellowship week with the popular saying, “Knowledge is power.” Knowledge is one of the most powerful tools humans have. It’s through knowledge that progress is made, informed decisions are taken, and paths are guided for the future. One thing that left a lasting impression on me was the way that people in the US share resources before and after meetings. They make sure information is accessible to everyone and use plain language. This is unlike my country, Kenya, where the illiteracy level among persons with disabilities is still high, mostly because they are denied the right to access information and the stigma and discrimination they face.

Creating a better world for everyone is all about community.