“For the first few months following my trip, I told anyone who would listen about my plans to one day change the lives of the blind population in Syria. However, I have refined this goal since then. The blind in America still have more improvements to fight for and there are more people in need of assistance and encouragement.” Read more of Melissa’s work since her participation in the Youth Ability Summit in Syria

The following entry is a guest post by Melissa Lomax, a participant from our Youth Ability Summit. This is part of the “Where Are They Now?” series. Here is what she had to say about her experience in Syria:

Melissa Lomax (fourth in from left) and Youth Ability Summit group (Syria, August 2010)

As a child, I dreamed about helping disabled people, and as an adolescent, I began living out that dream. I am blind, and my hopes are to work with young, blind adults, to motivate and teach them. I am an active member of the National Federation of the Blind, meeting blind teens frequently. I used to assist with tutoring and independence training, but I realized that my efforts solely helped a small population located in New Jersey. Traveling to Damascus, Syria allotted me a completely different opportunity. Instead of working with Americans, I was working alongside counterparts varying in disabilities and culture, who in turn taught me a great deal of information.

In fact, the lessons I learned comprise the bulk of my memories. I recorded several stories shared by my Syrian peers. These were amazing, fun, and beautifully dressed individuals. Some of their accounts told of overbearing families, insufficient schooling, and unclear futures.

Spending my entire life in America prevented me from ever imagining that entering high school could be prolonged. For the deaf population in Syria, this is the case. With only one deaf high school in Damascus, students have to wait to receive schooling. For them, college could only live in dreams since sign language interpreters are few. I found the stories and conversations with blind Syrians the most impactful. Several girls asked which careers I could pursue with my vision loss; I shared various jobs which astonished them. That was the reality check I needed. Before coming to Syria, I often complained about some of the obstacles in my life. Talking to these girls, however, helped me to realize that my struggles were not that bad. I have options, resources, and even back-up plans. They often do not.

For the first few months following my trip, I told anyone who would listen about my plans to one day change the lives of the blind population in Syria. However, I have refined this goal since then. The blind in America still have more improvements to fight for and there are more people in need of assistance and encouragement. Therefore, I devote a large portion of my time to assisting in these efforts. I am now the president of the Maryland Association of Blind Students and am a board member for the Maryland affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind. I wish to encourage blind youth to recognize the gifts they could use to help others. That way, we could work collectively to advocate for Americans and encourage others worldwide.

Outside of advocating, I am a student. I attend the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. As a junior, I consider this time my mid-college crisis. I want to do everything it seems, but I need to find the best thing. My major is English Literature and my minors are Sociology and English Writing. I am a member of the Golden Key International Honors Society and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars.

Presently, I am conducting undergraduate research in the English Honors Society. My free time usually becomes filled with community service, my favorite being editing college admissions and scholarship essays for high school seniors. Graduate school stands undoubtedly in my future, but the precise program still remains unknown. I will either pursue a Master’s in English or Sociology, or I will study to become an orientation and mobility instructor teaching blind people how to properly use a cane. Whichever path I choose, I know that it will have everything to do with helping others.

_________________

For more information on the Open Hands Initiative, visit:

www.openhandsinitiative.org


Featured Image Credit: FotoRita [Allstar maniac] via Compfight cc

Written by Melissa Lomax

This article has been written by one of more than a hundred authors that have contributed to youthpolicy.org over the years. Some of them have not yet provided us with their personal byline, so we have the chance instead to say thank you to the good people writing for us! Want to be one of them? Email us at curious@youthpolicy.org.