We are still facing COVID but have opened limited programs for people with a disability to return to work in Matagalpa, Nicaragua. Young people working in the environmental programs are working with distance, masks, and hand washing at intervals. They are grateful and enthusiastic about their work. COVID mode has changed our "modus operandi," calling us to become mindful and reflective in our work, especially concerning our attitudes. Are we genuinely being inclusive, and are we working for independence, or are we maternal or paternalistic in our approach to working with people with a disAbility? An example of inclusiveness comes to mind as Juanita, one of the founding mothers of Special Families, prepares to retire this year from her position as Madrina. She is a mother of a young man with a disAbility who has been able to make his way in life, getting a job on his own and creating a small family. Juanita began as a mother leader in her neighborhood and a member of our first Mothers' Board of Directors. When her husband died, she withdrew from the organization, and also it seemed from life. We were concerned for her. So we offered her an actual job as the first Madrina, working in our recycling business. The other mothers knew how hard this transition time was for her. Juanita picked up again where she left off working for these young people entering the job market. She identified with those who felt left out because of their disAbilities because she too has a disAbilty. Juanita had a car accident in the 1980s. She was sent to Cuba for treatment, where they put a metal disk as a hip replacement. This accident left her crippled, and she always dreamed of going back to Cuba to get an actual hip replacement. She even worked with volunteers from Switzerland and Holland to get one but was blocked by various circumstances. None of this stopped Juanita from becoming the first Madrina in our jobs program. She has helped hundreds of young people with multiple disAbilities to go on to more job independence and life stability. She believes in each person for who they are, and thus receiving all the opportunities to develop. Everyone will miss Juanita. We believe there is no way she will stay away from Special Families because of her inclusiveness commitment. Being present to her friends and family is essential to her as a member of Special Families.
During this time of COVID, we discovered our maternalistic tendencies in working with blind people through reflection. We have a young woman who has been working in our kraft bag program. She is a leader in this work. We recently hired her brother, who is also completely blind. He is an assistant in special education. He is very mobile and very active in many activities and teaches music. He also works with mothers in special education to learn more about their childrens' therapy. We are thrilled to work with both of them. One staff member asked why her brother was so much more mobile than his sister. The answer: His family could not afford to send both of them to the survival course, so he got the opportunity because he was male. Our staff had to reflect on this sad reality for economically blind women. How independent is his sister? She needs the chance of a survival course. Someone mentioned that she could not even walk to the bathroom unassisted. We had never noticed how we anticipated all her movements with immediate assistance. We always thought she did a good job but did not see that she could be independent and that we were overprotective. We didn't realize that we needed to offer her ways to develop her independence. What if she could take a class in survival techniques for blind people? We had a workshop on the culture of blind people, which was very helpful to us, and she and her brother participated. Still, we had never identified her lack of mobility and independence. Our human resources office is working with the same people who gave us the workshop because they offer that course. We had to face the fact that we had been working with this young blind woman, yet we were blind to her developmental needs. It will be a sacrifice for our foundation because she will have to leave the job for a while to take the course, but we believe that she will be a better worker and grow. We are working with her family for her to enroll in survival skills classes for the blind. It is a matter of observing people's deeper needs instead of automatically trying to solve what we see as a problem. We need to ask the question, what do they need to develop to solve this problem themselves?
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