We All Want to Take Part in The Celebration of Life
On October 5th, 2013, I received an e-mail from the Association of People with Dwarfism in Kenya, with an invitation to give my first international keynote speech. At first I did not know what to expect, since I had received a spam email speaker request just a few days earlier from the First Baptist Church in London. I had several doubts before I mentioned anything to my parents. Is this even real? Does it make sense to go? Is it safe to travel to a third world country? My first thoughts, along with many Americans first thoughts when they think about Kenya, were about safety. We worry because it's a third world country, which means that it may not be safe. However, I try my best to always be aware of my surroundings and travel with people who I can trust, no matter where I go.
The Association of People with Dwarfism in Kenya originally found me on Twitter. This shows how powerful social media really is. It allows you to get your brand seen across the web! After a few days of hesitation, I finally reached out to the organization and asked them to give me a call on my home phone. I was eager to start the planning process, even though I was still feeling hesitant. We continued to communicate through email. From the start, they wanted to help me with the launch of my international speaking career. They felt that this could be a great introduction that would lead to future speaking opportunities throughout Africa. I was still going through my due diligence and I talked to people that the organization had invited before reaching out to me. I reached out to Debra Ruh, a Global Disability Inclusion Strategist, who travels around the world to speak. Her daughter Sara, was born with Downs syndrome. She talked me through endless possibilities that could result from this trip. The organization had made it clear that they were not able to pay a speaking fee, but they would cover all of my travel expenses to and from Kenya. After talking to Debra, this turned into an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.
As soon as the agreement was in place, the long waiting period began. We waited up to the last 24 hours before we received a final trip confirmation. From the moment I agreed to go on the trip, I was still confused as to whether or not it would become a reality. Planning with the organizers in Kenya became challenging, since there was an eight-hour time difference. However, the leaders of the Association of People with Dwarfism in Kenya worked so hard to find the right sponsors that would cover the costs of our trip. Less than 48 hours before our planned departure time, the initial sponsor backed out. Instead of informing us of this last minute challenge, the organizers scrambled to find the sponsor, Century DT Microfinance LTD, who would agree to bring us to Kenya.
It became official; we got on a plane from Washington, DC through Amsterdam, to Kenya on November 26th. The minute we landed and got our Visas, the VIP security guards approached us. These were the same guards who provide security for Mike Sonko, the Senator of Nairobi. They escorted us to the VIP Lounge, a place where only the Senator and President are allowed to hang out. From the moment we arrived to the moment we left, they really wanted us to feel safe. In the VIP Lounge, two members of the Association, along with different media representation from Kenya, were waiting for us. The media asked all types of questions and by the next morning, a majority of the people in Nairobi had seen me on television. When I was younger, I always made my parents replay home videos because I wanted to see “Becky on TV” and it finally came to life in an international setting. We stayed at the VIP Lounge until we were escorted in one of the Senator’s cars to a great hotel called Pride Inn. They were another one of the organization’s sponsors who took very good care of us.
It was a whirlwind of media interviews and press coverage, for the entire trip. I even performed comedy at the Churchill Show, in front of a live audience. We were able to share our stories, perform comedy, and reach over 10 million television viewers, while creating awareness for little people.
One of the things that I remember most is everyone's love of dancing. Where ever and whenever music was playing, Kenyans stopped what they were doing and starting dancing. It was like a domino effect and gave everyone around them the urge to dance. Where ever we went, I kept getting the urge to dance as well.
We continued to do press coverage with TV, radio and local newspapers. I enjoyed sharing my story in all different formats. One of my greatest goals was to help instill confidence in the people of Kenya. This was especially important for people with disabilities since a lot of people tell them they can’t. I have learned that most people act only on what information is given to them. This means that if people say that you can’t, then you begin to believe that. It then becomes difficult to get people out of that way thinking. I wanted to be a real life example, showing that you can do more for yourself and follow your dreams. I was able to show people that it’s possible to be a little person with courage, confidence, and strength. I wanted to let them know that I too have had my struggles, even in the United States. I showed them that I made the decision not to live in my struggles but use them for motivation.
A few days before the launch event, I had the honor to meet Coordination Principal Secretary Josephta O. Mukobe. She not only has short stature but also has no hands. Despite her condition, she has been appointed to number two highest position Kenya. This proves that although Kenya may be a developing country, it already appears to be more sensitive on disability concerns than the developed countries.
I look at Kenya's medical needs compared to ours and I do feel a sense of gratefulness coupled with sadness. I was able to see a doctor who specialized in dwarfism, granted it was 8 hours away, but I had that option and in Kenya people do not. They have to go to whichever doctor is assigned to them. None of them even have medical records for the specialist to look at. It was both the Association and my goal to create more awareness, in order to get backing for research and more opportunities for little people in Kenya. One of the perceptions is that we are working hard to dispel the perception around the world. Just because people are different does not mean they can’t contribute to society. America struggles the same way Kenya does with little people. I was floored when a little person was driving us and he was pulled over three times in one day because they thought he was a child driving. I experience similar situations when I'm out to eat with my average height peers or parents and the waitress or waiter will ask them for my order. They’re afraid to ask me directly. This trip helped me realize although Kenya is another country, they still have the desire to be accepted, heard, and loved. They deserve to have similar opportunities. I left this trip with the responsibility to help grow the awareness that we all want to take part in the celebration of life!
When I held the Kenyan flag, alongside Nairobi Senator Mike Sonko, I felt a sense of unity not just under the dwarfism umbrella but the umbrella of humanity.
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