On March 25, six students from the College landed in Nepal to take part in the Rotaract International Disabilities Awareness internship.
The BCC Rotaract Club is a junior rotary in affiliation with, and sponsored by, the Bellevue Rotary Club. There are other Rotaracts in the area, but there are very few at colleges. In fact other schools have been taking a look at our Rotaract because they want to start their own similar clubs.
Faisal Jaswal, Assistant Dean of Student Programs, has been their advisor for the past six years, all the way from the start. The club’s current president is Katie Boudadene. Her efforts paved the way for the group currently in Nepal.
Membership in the club is very diverse with students of different ethnicities and academic persuasions. This year-long internship allows the club operates mostly locally in the community where they fhave worked with a camp for burn victims, a camp for cancer survivors, powered the Special Olympics and done work at a health clinic for low income families. Their mantra is “service above self”. They stress awareness and action in everything they do.
All these efforts are part of the Disabilities Awareness internship. The emphasis of this program is to create a sense of understanding about the different cultural implications of disabilities. While disability is a relatively well accepted societal facet here in the US, other cultures have been known to shun or ostracize the mentally or physically disabled. Other cultures regard disability as something deeper than just stigma; to them it is more like a curse.
“In order for the club to really understand people with disabilities,” said Jaswal “they need to have a macro and micro view of what people with disabilities face, in our culture and in other cultures.”
Jaswal knows that you have to create a spark by engaging people one-on-one, and the best way to do this, according to him, is to create a “kaleidoscopic perspective” where you see all the different facets of disability in our culture and others, so the Nepal trip is really aimed at giving the students perspective and understanding. Jaswal holds beliefs similar to that of communications theorist Marshall McLuhan, that citizenship is not local anymore; that we are all one ‘global village’ and the only way to ignite this spark is by firsthand experience and participation.
According to Boudadene, the club does community service at least once a month, most of which are rotary functions. It was a Rotarian from the Bellevue rotary club who was given a $300,000 grant to jumpstart the Nepal/USA Disabilities Awareness Program. The students who have flown to Nepal will be there for the commencement ceremony. “The President of Nepal will be there” said Boudadene, “the Brad Pitt of Nepal will be there…it’s a big, BIG deal.” In Nepal, they believe a disability is a “punishment from God” and those people will not have access to education. Boudadene visited Nepal last year and promised to bring back more students. Now it is safe to say, she has come through on that promise.
The effort is not entirely on the BCC club’s shoulders. For two years, individual rotaract clubs in Nepal went around making moulds of people’s ears so that info could be sent to the US, to a company that was donating hearing aids back to Nepalese people with hearing disabilities.
Boudadene personally sent all of the club members through five weeks of training before shipping off to Nepal so they could be prepared to communicate on an intercultural level.
While the students are in Nepal, they will be making connections with Rotaract members and finding out about the projects they are involved in. On top of that, they will be meeting with the key players in the advocacy for disabilities awareness.
Boudadene says “we are sending them over there to help build their sensitivities, to build sensitive global`leaders. Their bubble in life will be getting bigger and bigger.”
When it came time to gather funds to get the students over to Nepal, the biggest pushback was from ASG, who wouldn’t give them their requested funds. Most of the money comes from the Bellevue Rotary Club and fundraisers held by BCC’s Rotaract club. Katie Boudadene, Faisal Jaswal and Gerald Bunce (faculty advisor) have been the foremost driving force in the Rotaract Club. Students are encouraged to join, as the club is open to any BCC student.