Dear Ms. Cecilia,
My name is Svetlana Patra. From May 6th to May 27th, I had an incredible trip to the United States of America. I would like to thank everyone who has done everything to make this trip a reality and to everyone who has worked hard to share as much knowledge as possible during this trip, as we have had a practical experience in improving human life and have felt an incredible amount of positive emotions.
I am very pleased to share my impressions after visiting San Antonio within the framework of the International Visitor Leadership Program (“Integration & Advocacy for Socially Vulnerable Populations”, A Project for Ukraine). The city of San Antonio is very colorful and interesting, not a week or even a year would be enough to fully acquaint me with it. I liked the Holiday Inn Riverwalk Hotel and enjoyed walking along the banks of the San Antonio River, as well as the old Alamo and the park around it. Of course, I not only rested, but also acquired new knowledge and experience. It was very useful to learn more about the role of local government in supporting the rights of people with disabilities, on independent living services, and on recreational services for children & young people with disabilities. This knowledge is invaluable for me and showed another side of human needs and opportunities. All this knowledge will be very useful to me in future work.
The most striking part of staying in San Antonio was the visit to the magical Morgan’s Wonderland park. It was nice to see how children can play, regardless of whether the child has a disability or not. Gordon Hartman, who helped not only his daughter Morgan, but also other children with disabilities, opened the park and is a very inspiring example for all. This park really helps children and young people with disabilities play at the same level with healthy peers and to participate in activities like swinging, riding a carousel, and trying all kinds of fun on the water. And all this is accessible and safe for people with disabilities. I have to admit that my disease of brittle bones caused a panic in the fear of falls, which made it psychologically hard to climb the stairs or raise my arms at any height, and the language about the various swings or carousels did not help. And yet, I decided still to try to rock on the swing. And I liked it! I rocked on the swing for the first time in my life! What a weird life! To just ride a swing, I had to cross a good half of the earth. But I was not just entertained - I studied the successful US experience to bring back to Ukraine. To make education, play, and work life accessible to all!
Wherever we were in the US, we met representatives of the Ukrainian diaspora. I warmly remember the acquaintance with the Ukrainian community of San Antonio. I saw how Ukrainians in the United States are united around the most important thing - caring for the people in Ukraine.
At the end, I would like to mention people who were with us during the trip, not only during their working hours, but always whenever needed. These are our translators - Ms. Natalia Kononenko, Mr. Peter Wojciechowski, and Mr. Oleksandr Shepel. These people performed their work very professionally. In addition, they made many efforts to insure that we could get as much knowledge, experience, and opportunity as possible (and not only during the working hours). They also showed not only professionalism, but also human readiness to help. They provided tips and assistance in translating during walks and even during numerous flights. Without their diligence, we would not be able to gain so much knowledge and experiences as we did.
I also want to sincerely thank Ms. Cecilia, as well as all the employees of the San Antonio Council for International Visitors who joined this program, for the incredible impressions and extremely useful knowledge that I received from San Antonio.
While visiting the United States (and in particular San Antonio), I realized that nobody, except the person themself, can build a happy future for themselves. The same applies to the government. Therefore, people with disabilities should not expect that the government will become accessible and tolerant in one magical moment. After all, people who live in it, who, until they encounter a certain problem, may not understand that existence. Consequently, it is necessary to speak clearly and loud about ones problems. And learn to be responsible for your life. And for your country.
The following is a letter received by Executive Director, Cecilia Cross, from Ms. Svetlana Patra, a Ukrainian participant in SACIV’s “Integration & Advocacy for Socially Vulnerable Populations” program in May 2017. As a journalist, Ms. Svetlana Patra regularly writes about people with special needs, focusing on their successes and triumphs. She is a graduate of Ukraina University, a school known for its progressive ideas in the area of education for students with special needs, and a committed advocate for inclusive education. Ms. Patra is particularly interested in education for people with special needs. She enjoyed exploring the roles that journalism, literature, music, and other cultural media play in supporting inclusion and advocacy for people with disabilities.