Thursday, June 9, 2011

When the world says, "Give up," Hope whispers, "Try it one more time."

First, I want to thank everyone for their prayers, messages, and words of support lately. I do have a lot to update you on, but I will start with my most recent issues and catch you all up on the past weeks in the weeks to come.

I’ve had many obstacles in my life, so I have never been one to quickly throw in the towel, but this situation brought a whole new meaning to the word “determination”. Costa Rica is a not an accessible country. Sidewalks rarely are even, let alone fully paved, or existent. This, along with that fact that I had to move two days after classes started, brought a great deal of stress. The home I was in suffered major water damage to the walls in my room, posing major electrical issues and safety concerns for myself. Unable to find any other accessible home close to the school, I was moved to student housing - alone. I am the only person in the building, with no security, no neighbor, absolutely no one. No one else is here until the middle of July, so it is a little alarming to think of what I would do in an emergency with no one around. This building, like many others in Costa Rica, is not accessible. The walk to school consists of a steep hill with faulty sidewalks, which I now choose to ignore and instead just walk on the side of the street. Until recently, I was unsure of where to find meals, toiletries, or even a phone to ask for help. These are all comforts we take for granted.

However, if you want to work on your relationship with Christ - move away from everything you know, everything that’s comfortable and familiar, and see who you call on. Together with Him, you will watch yourself grow.

I recently found out that there is no possibility of being placed with a host family. With this, I would have to pay for all living expenses (meals, laundry, housing) independently and not directly to the school. The feasibility of this option is unknown because I don’t know the country well enough to handle all of those things. At this point, it was recommended that I end my program and return home at the end of June. But, I have so much more work here to do before I feel I can go. As of today, I am crunching numbers to see what I can work out. In my discussion with staff, I told them that even though this was not right, I was glad that this happened to me. I never want another student with a disability to undergo the obstacles I have had while here. I would live with roaches, uneven stairs, faulty sidewalks, and near hit-and-runs for a year if it meant another person with a disability had a positive, worry free experience studying abroad, and never go through what I have been enduring. Constant reminders of loneliness send a strong message about the lack of appreciation, acceptance, and overall value contributed to people with disabilities.

Each missing curb cut says... I’m not here.
Each flight of stairs with no ramp says... I'm not wanted here.
Each office building without an elevator says... I’m not good enough to work for them.

Despite the University's endless work to make things more enjoyable, this is the message I’ve inadvertently received while here. More importantly, this is the message that Costa Ricans with disabilities have been receiving their entire lives. These very messages are also why I feel I should stay.

Last week, I went to the grocery store. I saw a young man with a profound case of cerebral palsy. He could not speak or walk. In the states, there are accessible vans. But here, this man, only a few years younger than me, was thrown into the backseat of a cargo van with nothing but hospital restraints and duct tape to hold him steady. At first, I was mortified. But then I realized that this is the level of resources that this country has available. This level of treatment is the only thing they know. They, like the University and many other third-world countries, have no other options.

This struck a chord with me. The condition of the young man very well may have been the condition that I could have experienced. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy after being born 3 months early, my parents were told that I would live a very limited life. However, with all of the prayers and resources that were available, I was able to break free from those limitations and challenge myself on levels that were originally seen as impossible. If I had not had access medical professionals and community resources, coupled with the power of prayer, I too could be taped to the backset of a cargo van. And without resources here in Costa Rica, prayer is all people are left with. Although prayer is a very powerful thing, these people also deserve to have faith in their country's ability to help them achieve their greatest potential.

That is why I believe I am here. My original goal was to simply explore a country and learn from its culture, and maybe educate a few of my peers, but now it has grown into something much larger. Through my long talks with Christ, I now know that I am here to be an advocate for all of those here in Costa Rica with disabilities. I know that the path to acceptance and acknowledgment will be a long one that will require more than just me... but I am ready and willing to be the first to start walking.

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