Access Living participates in International Exchange Program

Director of Advocacy travels to Europe to engage on disability issues

Stoyan Pavlov of Bulgaria, Amber Smock,
Anett Csordàs of Hungary, and Rod Estvan, Access Living’s Education Policy Analyst.
This Friday, February 12, Access Living’s Director of Advocacy Amber Smock will travel to Europe as part of a two-way exchange Professional Fellows Program of the WSOS Community Action Commission/Great Lakes Consortium. The program, funded by the U.S. Department of States Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, is called “Sustaining Civic Participation in Minority Communities” and includes 36 participants from four Central and Eastern European countries and 14 U.S. mentors. Amber Smock will be among the delegation of men and women who were selected as a U.S. mentor for the trip this February.

The exchange seeks to provide professionals from Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia opportunities to engage with partners in the United States in practices of citizen participation, community organizing, advocacy and building grassroots democracy.

Smock, along with the other mentor delegates, will travel to the countries of the European participants in order to share professional expertise and gain a deeper understanding of the societies, cultures and people of other countries. Smock will visit Bulgaria and Hungary. The goal of the exchange is to promote mutual understanding, create long-term professional ties, and enhance collaboration between the participating communities in the United States and abroad.

The American mentors will travel to Europe from February 12 through 29, 2016. In Europe, the mentors will provide joint workshops with the fellows, participate in on-site consultation and fieldwork, and conduct wider audience outreach programs, including celebration of Black History Month, in collaboration with the U.S. Embassies. As part of the exchange, Smock will also visit Anett Csordàs, the president of a civil organization in Hungary called “Steps for their Steps,” and Stoyan Pavlov of the National Association of Resource Teachers in Bulgaria. Both Csordàs and Pavlov spent four weeks working at Access Living in the fall of 2015.

Mentors and fellows will work together to implement ideas learned in the United States and reach out to other alumni of this exchange who may need mentoring. When Csordàs and Pavlov were in Chicago, Smock helped organize their schedule, arranging meetings and site visists, and setting up projects. “I wanted to help provide an experience for our visitors that demonstrated the many layers of disability advocacy in Chicago,” Smock said.

About to embark on the second part of the exchange, Smock recognizes the need for international partnerships, particularly in the area of disability. “It’s important for advocates to know that progress moves at different rates in different countries,” she said. “Access and disability rights are not universal. Unless we participate in international exchanges, we cannot appreciate the real depth of success and failure that human society has made regarding people with disabilities.”

The other U.S. Mentors include: Ronnie Harris, Go Bronzeville, Chicago; Branden Snyder, Michigan United, Detroit; Joanna Brown, Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Chicago; Anthony Sheilds, Neighborhood Organizing for Change, Minneapolis; Mike Griffin, Neighborhood Organizing for Change, Minneapolis; Michael Tierny, Step by Step, Charleston; Jaquie Algee, Service Employees International Union, Chicago; Leah Torrey, United Valley Interfaith Project, Meridan; Regina McGraw; Wieboldt Foundation, Chicago.

Follow Amber’s blog to keep up with her travels in Europe