Tara D. Sonenshine serves as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.
In a public school in Ukraine, the State Department’s longtime efforts to support the human rights, dignity, and inclusion of all people was in clear evidence.
Located in the Kyiv district of Obolon, School #168 is the only school in the area where physically disabled children are integrated into regular classrooms. With help from State Department funding, the school offers intensive English language training, and integrates American culture and civic engagement as part of its enhancement activities.
At my recent visit there, students — with and without disabilities — greeted me in traditional Ukrainian costume. They presented decorated Ukrainian bread, and sang a local welcoming song. They ushered me through hallways lined with arts and crafts they had made.
After that, I toured classes where students interacted with unselfconscious fraternity. That togetherness was even more poignant when I visited our English Access Microscholarship language class. Established in March 2012, it is one of the first programs in Ukraine to provide inclusive English-language education for children with physical and cognitive disabilities.
There may have been physical limitations for some students, who were in wheelchairs, or working with restricted use of their limbs or facial muscles, but there was no limitation on good cheer and camaraderie. The students were joyous, and clearly excited to receive an official visitor from the U.S. government. They were especially eager to demonstrate their English language skills through specially prepared monologues or songs that summarized some of their activities throughout the year.
After their presentations, the children concluded by singing a song they had recently learned from American folk singer Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary fame) during his visit to their school.
During that visit, it was clear what a small amount of U.S. Embassy public diplomacy funds meant to this unique inclusive school. And it was also clear to everyone that no story can be complete — and no challenges fully addressed — without everyone’s full involvement.
Cross posted from DipNote, the official blog of the U.S. Department of State.