During their exchange year, World Link students get to learn about and experience first-hand the benefits the Americans with Disabilities Act has had on the country. They see ramps for wheelchair access for businesses. They see signs in braille to help the blind and hear crosswalks that speak to help the hard of hearing in their travels. Moreover, in many of their experiences, they see a stark contrast in the inclusive attitude Americans have towards people living with disabilities versus their experiences in their home country.
These experiences encourage World Link students to not only volunteer during their year with organizations dedicated benefiting people with disabilities, such as Special Olympics, but to also focus their Global Youth Service Day (GYSD) Project to benefit this group.
In celebration of 30 years of the American with Disabilities Act, World Link asked our alum Oleh Medvediev ’18 (Ukraine/CO) to share his story about the GYSD project he organized during his exchange year called “Special Olympics Basketball” which gave youth with disabilities in his area the opportunity to share in his love for sports.
His project inspired his friend from the program and another one of our alumni, Aidin Turganbekov ’18 (Kyrgyzstan/CO) to create his alumni project “Basketball for All”, making this U.S. GYSD project, a first-of-its-kind project in Kyrgyzstan, with hopes of continuing to spread the idea across the globe.
Special Olympics Basketball – Oleh
Unfortunately, not all people are created equal. Some people are born with disabilities, that prevent them to participate in some activities or experiences others get to enjoy. No matter how you look at it, it’s unfair, yet it is something we have to acknowledge and live with. However, this doesn’t mean we can’t provide them with love and support. In the cold world we live in, these are the things the kids require the most.
From a young age, I loved sports and was blessed to be able to do what I love. This is the reason I chose to help this particular group. I wanted to try and do something that would encourage them, bring joy, and simply, put a smile on their face.
Planning My GYSD Project
When we were first informed about the GYSD project we were asked to do, I felt a little overwhelmed. Not having any experience in such type of work, I didn’t really know if I could do something like that. It all seemed so complicated and stressful as lots of things in our life do.
However, the more I thought about it, the more inspired I became. In fact, I no longer saw it as something I had to do, but something I wanted to do. I wanted to prove myself, that I could do something good. I wanted to use the opportunity to understand what I was capable of. In other words, I wanted to test my leadership and make a change.
And so, I began looking for opportunities to aid the community around me. Not without the help of my wonderful host-family, I linked my high-school basketball team, a local church, and the local Special Olympics chapter together and created the basketball clinic. As described in my project overview, me and the members of the Palmer-Ridge High School basketball team, including the coach, ran some drills with the kids, taught them some of the essentials, and finally, played scrimmages.
My GYSD Impact
While I was there, looking at the kids smiling and having fun, I felt very powerful. I understood, that with the right mindset, anybody can make a change. That project taught me not to fear opportunities, but to grab them and use them. To try, to experiment, and to make the best out of them. And if something doesn’t go by the plan, breaks, or fails, there is always another way to succeed. Rethink; Adopt; Overcome; Succeed – this is what it takes, to be a leader.
A little while after I returned, I couldn’t have been happier to hear, that one of my best pals, and a very successful FLEX-Alumnus Aidin Turganbekov, had re-created my project in Kyrgyzstan. Knowing, that your idea inspired someone to make a change is the greatest praise!
Thank you to American Councils for believing and investing in my potential. World Link, thank you for shaping my leadership. Thank you, Palmer-Ridge High School, for taking me in as one of your own. Finally, to my host family, the Black Family. Thank you for providing me with the support and guidance I needed throughout the year.
Being an Active Alum – Aidin
After coming back from the United States, I was very eager to be engaged in the alumni program because World Link prepared us for what kind of projects we can do and how to design and implement them. It was a great opportunity for me just to jump right into the alumni community activities.
During my first year, I was implementing easy projects, but that still benefitted our society including a “Free Hugs” project, giving out flowers for International Women’s Day, and charity fundraisers to benefit the orphanages or elderly houses.
After my first year, I started questioning myself and my projects, “Are they bringing enough impact to the community?” I wanted to start making a different level of impact and therefore, the project, “Basketball for All” was created.
Improving my Projects
So first, how did it come to my mind to implement such a project? I need to say that back in 2018 when we were implementing [GYSD] projects with World Link, my close friend from Ukraine, Oleh, he was implementing this project which included children with down syndrome. They were able to practice some basic elements with the basketball team from Palmer-Ridge High School in Monument.
I was really inspired by this idea and how we are creating a more inclusive world. I saw the attitude of the people in the United States to create many more opportunities for people with disabilities, creating inclusivity. This is what we needed here in Kyrgyzstan.
Starting from my 2nd year as an alumnus, I started doing more impactful projects with a more long-term perspective. I think this one, Basketball for All, is the main one as it has involved many people and many volunteers and had some amazing output.
Basketball for All
In February 2020, I decided to apply for a grant from my university, American University of Central Asia. I was lucky or maybe deserved, to get this grant from the Center for Civic Engagement within the Student Initiative Development Program.
We wouldn’t receive these grant funds right away, and I felt I needed to start this project as soon as possible, which did create some extra challenges. For example, I had to find a venue that would let us use it for free. Thankfully, the university agreed to this, which is not something they typically do. We also had to find some basketballs. We were able to collect money through social media to purchase some basketballs and by reaching out to a local sports company, we got even more donated.
When the clinic started, we had 20 children, with down syndrome or autism, from two rehabilitation centers. I gathered 20 FLEX alumni as volunteers, including World Link alumni Dastan Baktybekov ’18 (Kyrgyzstan/IL), Sanzhar Ormukov ’18 (Kyrgyzstan/IA), and Aigul Saparova ’18 (Kyrgyzstan/CA). We had three sessions in March, the 1st, 8th, and 15th. Right now, that is all we have been able to implement due to the pandemic, but in the future, we want to continue and further develop the project.
What We Learned
Since this was the first time a project like this was happening in Kyrgyzstan, there were many aspects of this project we didn’t know. For example, many of our volunteers have never had experience with children with disabilities so we needed to learn much more on how to communicate with them. We made sure after each session, to gather the parents and the participants to see what they liked, what they didn’t like, what we needed to work on. With this information, each session, our project continued to improve.
We met with one of the parents who had played in Almaty with a professional team. It was great to bring this experience to our project. One session, we held without the parents which helped the participants gain more trust in us. By the end of the 3rd practice, we were able to communicate with the children perfectly!
Since safety is the main thing, we won’t be holding sessions for the rest of this year, but we know we want to continue this project in the future with the same children and the same volunteers. We have some great plans for this project, and I hope after some years, we spread this project idea to other regions and countries so that everyone practices inclusivity.
Everyone is born with equal rights, so we need to treat them equally too by creating opportunities for everyone. Not excluding them but encouraging them to be part of our big society.
Whatever happens in our life, happens for a reason. I was lucky to have been able to study in the United States and to meet Oleh from Ukraine. Without this, I would not have been able to bring that experience and idea to my country for the first time in Kyrgyzstan.
There are so many people to thank. Thank you FLEX Program, World Link organization, my friends from the United States, my friends, and alumni community here for giving me this great opportunity to grow and implement such projects.
I really want to thank the [PAL] program World Link creates and elaborates on every year, putting an emphasis on students and how they develop throughout the year. I am really honored and was lucky to be placed with World Link, especially in Colorado, with my amazing host family.
World Link would like to thank Oleh and Aidin for sharing about their projects benefitting people with disabilities. Read more celebration of the Americans with Disabilities Act highlights by following our Facebook page.